Someone attending their first DA meeting on Wednesday at UFT Headquarters would never have known there are two caucuses that often disagree on major union policy questions as everybody was basically aligned. Partisanship for the most part was put aside for February.
President Michael Mulgrew opened the meeting by thanking Delegates for getting through the snow to attend the meeting. He said that getting in is the work of the Union.
New York and Tennessee experiences show that Common Core is not working but people who don't like unions - right wing groups - are using the failure as an argument as to why public education must be privatized with vouchers and charter schools.
There are major news stories about elected officials in Albany calling for a moratorium on using Common Core tests to make high stakes decisions. Both State Assembly and State Senate leaders have come out for a two year moratorium on using Common Core test results for high stakes decisions.
To stop high stakes decisions for students, it would take a waiver that the State Education Department could apply for from the federal government. We are waiting to see the recommendations from the Board of Regents Task Force.
The UFT position is Common Core student test scores should not be utilized to evaluate teachers or students. We would need a federal waiver for students and state legislation to achieve our goal as using student test results to evaluate teachers is law in New York State. We would have to amend the law for those 20% of student test results not to count for teacher evaluation. UFT would prefer for 40% to be local measures.
Union would like a change so that the State Education Department could put out a menu that would include such tasks as judging students based on student portfolios and project based work for the 40% student growth portion of a teacher's grade. There would also have to be a standard rubric to grade these tasks. It is a complex process.
We are waiting to see what the Regents Task Force and Governor Cuomo's Task Force come up with in this area. It is positive that the Assembly and Senate leaders are saying we are not prepared for Common Core Tests. Parents inside and outside NYC are saying teachers don't have the materials to help students prepare for the new tests.
There is still no real curriculum. All we have is the inadequate Pearson materials in the city. Many districts have nothing but the modules put out by the State Education Department. Lobby Day will be particularly important this year. It is March 5. We will be lobbying for money for education, for a moratorium on using the high stakes test and for universal Pre-Kindergarten with a dedicated city funding source (tax on high income earners).
The President understands the hardship of getting to work on days when it snows. It was certainly icy this morning. However, many districts are already having to cancel parts of their spring breaks because they don't have enough school days in the year and the law says a district can't ask for a waiver of the minimum number of days until after they have used all of their vacation days.
We know another storm is coming. We have heard the calls for a delayed opening but because of the way former Mayor Bloomberg messed up the bus schedules - buses have to make two runs - it is impossible to change how the bus transportation works on snowy days.
We are not in a good weather pattern this year. After surviving the hurricane in 2012 and twelve years of Bloomberg, we can get through this winter.
Visiting nurses had a very difficult negotiation this round but they received a contract where they kept all of their benefits and received a pair of 2% salary increases.
As for the teachers and other UFT employees, our contract is being negotiated. The NY Times was accurate that we are in discussions with the city and fact finders. We had a meeting this week and we will have one next week. Our goal is to have a contract by the end of the school year so changes can be implemented in September.
Number one issue for the membership is money. The evaluation system, reduction in paperwork and the Common Core Tests are issues where we might be able to find common ground with the new administration. We agree with Mayor de Blasio not to negotiate in public. Our members deserve a raise. We have already earned the money Bloomberg should have given us years ago.
Staff Director's Report
Staff Director Leroy Barr told the Delegates that there will be a Guidance Counselor Conference on March 15. There will also be a Paraprofessional Luncheon at the Hilton on March 15. Lobby Day is March 5 and the next DA is March 19.
Question: What will be the impact of the Affordable Care Act on us?
Mulgrew Answer: This question has already been asked but to address it again children of our members are now covered up to age 26 and there is unlimited drug coverage. The Municipal Labor Committee could put out a Request for a Proposal for positive changes that would save the city a couple of hundred millions of dollars. We tried that with Bloomberg but he wasn't interested in saving money, just having us pay for premiums. The Affordable Care Act regulations have not yet kicked in for insurance companies but that will change in the near future.
Question: Members are being polled. Is that coming from the UFT?
Mulgrew Answer: He has to investigate if UFT is polling now.
Question: Can teachers do classroom visits for formal observations?
Mulgrew Answer: No. Inter-visitation can work but it can't be a formal evaluation. Peer evaluation has succeeded in Toledo and Rochester but we have to be careful with it.
Question: How should we be looking to do School Based Options for next year based on a possible new contract?
Mulgrew Answer: Our goal is to have a contract but that is a very difficult question to answer at this point.
Question: Rikers Island students are there for an average of 50-60 days. How can teachers be rated based on this short time span of student attendance?
Mulgrew Answer: This was one of the arguments we had with the previous administration. This is something that we have to work out with the current Chancellor. It is positive that educators are being hired for top positions again.
Question: Principal telling everyone in a Quality Review that if they are visited it will be an informal observation. Is this proper?
Mulgrew Answer: There must be timely feedback for it to be an informal observation. We need a paradigm shift with our administrators. The question to ask administrators is this: What are you doing to help me to better instruct the students?
Follow-up Question: When I go to administration for help, they tell me to go to ARIS and answer questions on some article or to hand in lesson plans. How is this help?
Mulgrew Answer: There has not yet been a paradigm shift in too many administrators. We have to visit this particular school. It is a positive sign that the Chancellor wants only people with a minimum of seven years of teaching experience to be considered for principal positions.
New Motion Period
Kevin Prossen from the Movement of Rank and File Educators raised the following resolution:
The UFT supports the Portland Association of Teachers in their fight for "The Schools Portland Teachers Deserve," which calls for reduced class sizes and caseloads, more elective classes and support services for students, equity of resources for high poverty schools, academic freedom, no school closures, and use of standardized testing as only one tool for assessment.
Since this was for this month's agenda, there was no debate allowed. It clearly received a 2/3 vote to go on the agenda but Mulgrew asked for a second vote and it passed again. The call for the second vote prompted some outrage in the opposition section of the hall but the motion clearly carried and was placed on the agenda.
Later in the meeting, this motion carried unanimously after being motivated by Kevin Prossen and then Staff Director Barr also spoke in favor. Bipartisanship at its finest!
Special Order of Business
The only resolution this month on the regular agenda was to nominate Tom Brown to replace the retiring Mona Romain as a Teacher-Member of the Teachers' Retirement Board of the City of New York. This also carried unanimously after Treasurer Mel Aaronson gave an emotional farewell speech for retiring Mona Romain and then Mona addressed the Delegates. We wish Mona well.
Mulgrew ended the meeting by noting that no schools were closed this year. (Yes but what about the ones that were already slated for closure? I thought the UFT sued to stop some of them.)