We often say that teaching and learning conditions cannot possibly get any worse in the New York City Public Schools and we are constantly proven wrong by the Chancellor and the UFT leadership. UFT President Randi Weingarten went in with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein and made the lives of educators she is supposed to represent even more unbearable by agreeing to school-wide merit pay. The deal was announced at the first UFT Delegate Assembly meeting on Wednesday and approved by the delegates. While Randi has been urging us to write faxes to Washington opposing individual merit pay, she was negotiating a deal with Bloomberg that will give us school-wide merit pay for student achievement gains in up to 200 low performing schools this school year and 400 next year. This is supposed to be a pilot project with 55% of UFT staff in each pilot school having to vote to opt in the program and the Principal has to agree to be a part of it as well.
Also, if a school agrees to be in the merit pay program, then it could be a positive factor in determining whether the "Participant School" is to be phased out or given a year's moratorium on a possible phase-out. The DOE in consultation with the UFT will set the criteria for awarding funds to schools. The amount will be $3,000 per member in a school. How that money will be divided will be decided by a committee made up of the principal, an assistant principal and two UFT members who are elected. This group must reach a consensus on how to distribute the bonuses or the school will receive nothing.
Clause twelve of the Memorandum of Agreement states: "Among the topics each Participant School compensation committee may decide to consider, after receiving guidance from the DOE and UFT, are whether to make equal individual awards to all eligible UFT staff, equal awards to all those in the same title (teachers paras, secretaries, counselors, etc...), or whether to make differential awards." As we read this, there is nothing that would stop a compensation committee from awarding various members nothing or they could give teachers more than counselors, or any combination that the committee wants. If a simple majority of the UFT Chapter votes to accept what the committee comes up with, then that's the award. Therefore if a school has fifty UFT members and the school's compensation committee decides to give 26 of them $6,000 and everyone else gets nothing and the twenty six agree to this, then everyone else would get nothing. That of course is an extreme example but we know it is not out of the realm of the possible. In addition, a vindictive principal could block consensus to spite a staff and give them nothing. There is an appeal process but all administration would have to do is prove they were not acting in an arbitrary and capricious way.
Merit pay could prove to be very divisive. For example what if there is a teacher who has tougher grading standards, there will be major pressure on that teacher and all teachers to pass everyone. The potential for cheating on tests and marking or playing with attendance numbers will be enormous.
What is most insulting about the merit pay program is the assumption by Randi and the city that the only reason any of us will be motivated to do our best in the classroom is so we can get an extra $3,000.
A DE-FACTO TIER V PENSION FOR UNBORN
The other big news from the DA was that the promised 55 years of age and 25 years working in the system retirement program should become a reality now that the city and the UFT have agreed to its final cost. The only step left is to get the Legislature and Governor to sign off which should not be a major hurdle since the city and UFT are now working together. When we looked very closely at the details of the letter that City Labor Commissioner James Hanley sent to Randi, it became obvious that this isn't a pension improvement for most UFT members but rather it is a new retirement tier, a De-facto Tier V for teachers yet to be hired.
For those currently in the system, there will be an "opt-in period" of six months to decide whether to participate. Weingarten told the DA that 36,000 members out of 100,000 active members would potentially be eligible. A member would have to make Additional Member Contributions of 1.85% for the rest of their career to be eligible to retire at age 55 with 25 years of service without the penalty that exists under current law.
For members not yet hired the situation is not at all positive. Anyone hired after this legislation is enacted would have to pay 4.85% of salary toward the pension for their first ten years of service and then new hires would have to pay 1.85% of their salary as contributions to the pension for the rest of their career. However, the new employees would not be eligible to retire with 25 years of service but instead they would have to be 55 and have finished 27 years of service.
Someone who starts teaching right out of college at age 22 is totally abused by the new system as they would have to pay pension contributions (4.85% for ten years and then 1.85% for the rest of their career) for 33 years before being eligible to retire without penalty. Right now the same college graduate who started in the system this year only has to make a 3% pension contribution for their first ten years of service. This is why we are calling this system a de-facto Tier V. It is another disincentive to teach in New York City for a young college graduate. ICE would also like to point out that once again we were right when we said the following on this blog last November when the Contract was proposed: "Let's remember that we have still not gotten the 25-55 year retirement that was supposed to have been won in our last contract. Will the 7% raise turn out to be much less?" For a teacher hired after the new law is passed, much of that 7% is gone for their entire career. Young teachers would be better off in yet another way working in a system in New York State outside of New York City or starting in the city, gaining experience and then going to a suburban district.
Both the De-facto Tier V and the merit pay scheme were overwhelmingly approved by the delegates but there was an enthusiastic opposition. Hopefully, word will get out in the schools about how future teachers will be hurt by the UFT pension scheme and we now have merit pay which we have opposed for years.
MORE BAD NEWS ON MERIT PAY & EXCESSED TEACHERS
In other Delegate Assembly news the delegates rejected a proposal by Peter Lamphere from Teachers for a Just Contract that called for the UFT to lead an AFT fight that would culminate in a rally in Washington opposing of all things, merit pay. The delegates also rejected two ICE amendments to a resolution asking for a moratorium on hiring new educators until all Absent Teacher Reserves (UFT members in excess) are placed. ICE believes that the resolution has little or no chance of being accepted by the Chancellor because there are no union actions that would support it. Randi at the September 25 Chapter leaders meeting said that it would be difficult to get the Chancellor to agree to the moratorium on hiring until ATR's are placed. We believe it will be impossible if the Union does not back the resolution with a full scale mobilization of UFT resources.
Jeff Kaufman motivated the amendments by telling Randi that she was in effect telling the ATR's "to go to hell," because she will not put the full weight and force of the Union behind the resolution to help them. ICE also believes that one of the biggest causes of the ATR problem is the closing of schools where again the Union needed to mobilize its members to get a moratorium on closing schools until we can have studies done assessing the effectiveness of closing schools on the educational process. Randi said we lost that battle in a court case years ago. The UFT won't even consider a real fight to keep its chapters together. When it comes to working for its members, this union once again proved it knows only one word:
When will the people who work in the schools say, "Enough already?"