The ballots for the proposed Contract are hitting the schools so it's time to answer some frequently asked questions before you vote. Vote with your eyes wide open.
Question: Does a yes vote mean that mean we still have to go back to school in August?
Answer: Yes. The longest school year in the NY metropolitan area will continue through at least the 2009-2010 school year. Next year we are slated to return to school on August 30th for "professional development." Returning to school almost a week earlier than usual was not pleasant. Only by voting no could we have a chance to organize to win back this and the other givebacks from last year.
Questions: So, all the givebacks remain then if we vote yes? Does a yes vote mean I still can't file grievances for letters in the file or unsatisfactory observation reports? Does a yes vote mean that most of us will still have to work the 37.5 minute small group instruction period four days a week? Does a yes vote mean we are voting for hall, cafeteria and potty patrols? If the Contract is approved, can members still be suspended without pay for certain offenses before they have a tenure hearing?
Answers to all of the above: Yes.
Question: Does a yes vote mean that transfers are still up to principals instead of seniority or school based hiring committees like in the past?
Answer: Transfers will be up to principals if the Contract is ratified.
Question: What about if I am excessed? Do I have a right to be placed before new teachers are hired?
Answer: No. All you have a right to is a job as an Absent Teacher Reserve (day-to-day substitute) teacher somewhere in your district/superintendency. If the city has a fiscal emergency, we can be laid off.
Question: Many schools have been closed or reorganized in the last decade. If my school closes do I have preferred placement rights?
Answer: No. Under the current Contract and the new proposal, members only have the right to an Absent Teacher Reserve position. Even if you are a veteran teacher, when your school is phased out, there is no guarantee that you won't have to pound the pavement and find your own position.
Question: Shouldn't we be happy that the Contract is settled a year early with a salary increase that will put the top teacher salary at $100,000 in 2008 and adds a new $1,000 longevity for UFT members with 5-9 years in the system as well as other little sweeteners?
Answer: Many people will be looking at the money and no further. We believe that this is a "tunnel-vision" perspective. The salary increases (2% +$750 bonus in 2007, 5% in 2008 and 0% in 2009) will not even keep up with inflation while the worst working conditions in the NY metropolitan area won't improve at all (highest class sizes, most dangerous dilapidated buildings, etc…).
Question: Have we at least gotten the 25 years in the system, 55 years of age retirement incentive that was promised in the last Contract?
Answer: No, it must still be negotiated.
Question: What is this new severance package I keep hearing about for people who are in excess for over a year? Isn't it voluntary?
Answer: The Department of Education and the UFT still have to negotiate the package and we don't know what it will look like or if there will be pressure put on teachers who don't accept irrevocable retirement or resignation. We do know that the UFT should not have even talked about this subject as even the anti-UFT arbitrators from the last round were asked by the DOE to recommend that teachers in excess for 18 months be terminated and the arbitrators left no doubt by saying that they "specifically reject this proposal." Klein bringing it up again in 2006 was an insult. He should have been told emphatically no and then given strong UFT demands to win back all of what we gave back last time. Instead, Klein was able to take a second bite at the apple and won a severance package. The UFT asked for nothing and got nothing. You can't win big gains if you don't ask for them.
Question: Have there been any improvements made to working conditions in this Contract?
Answer: We don't see any. The UFT claims that three new provisions are improvements but we disagree. First, a new provision saying we won't get letters to our file if corporal punishment charges are unsubstantiated does not help us because we don't get letters to the file now if charges are not substantiated. Second, a new committee to reduce paperwork is just an extra committee added to the two committees we already have on this subject. Finally, a new peer Intervention Program that is not confidential and can be used against us in hearings to fire us does not look like a gain to us.
Question: What about our health benefits and Mayoral Control of the schools? Randi said there were no deals on these two subjects in exchange for the Contract. Is this true?
Answer: Let history be your guide on this one. In the 2002 Contract, New York State provided funding for our first swap of us working more time in exchange for money (6% extra for 20 minutes more per day that became "teacher detention" otherwise known as "professional development Mondays"). That particular Contract was so bad that it was renegotiated three times in the next three years. In 2002, Randi said that there was no deal with Governor Pataki for that money but he was soon thereafter endorsed for reelection by the UFT and he won the John Dewey award. Coincidence? You be the judge. Much is undecided today. What is certain is that the Municipal Labor Committee will negotiate the health plan and we will not vote again on it. In the last two Contracts, the MLC negotiated the health package before the UFT Contract was settled. In addition, Mayoral Control must be renewed by the state in 2009? We believe it should be opposed unequivocally by the UFT working with parents and replaced with real School Based Shared Decision Making.
Question: The DC 37 Contract that set the financial pattern that we are following was approved by 97 % of the DC 37 voters. People are so frustrated that they will jump at anything and no additional givebacks looks like a plus. Why should we vote no?
Answer: We are in dangerous un-chartered seas. We believe a yes vote is a very shortsighted move. Members should think very carefully about how they vote on this proposed Contract because the future of the school system and UFT members hinges a great deal on how this vote comes out. An overwhelming yes vote would send a signal that educators are content with the way the system is being run under Mayoral Control. Think about how it felt working in August; it didn't help students. Think about being an ATR. Think about suspension without pay. Think about the lost right to grieve unfair letters in the file; it's November and people are already being summoned in many schools to meet with administration over petty matters. Since Bloomberg has taken over the schools, we have seen our working conditions and rights deteriorate dramatically and there is no improvement in sight. A strong no vote would send a message that thousands of educators know something is wrong.