Earlier yesterday, I was going over some of my old Jamaica High School materials to help prepare for a film shoot in Brooklyn for a pro-public education film where Kymberley Walcott, Jamaica HS Class of 2013, was one of the featured speakers. While combing through my archives for Jamaica High School materials, I came across the May 15, 2014 issue of the New York Teacher touting what was then a new UFT contract agreement. Three years later, UFT President Michael Mulgrew's letter to the membership sounds even more detached from reality than it did when I originally read it. Here is a part of it:
It is a contract for educators but, of equal importance, it is also a contract for education that will not only benefit us but also the students, schools and communities we serve.
After years of fighting off bad ideas from so-called "education reformers," we have in this contract turned the tables on them by enabling teacher-led innovations in our schools.
Working in partnership with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina, we now have the opportunity to rebuild our city's school system with educators--not bureacrats or consultants--in the driver's seat. Our agreement is the product of a shared belief that it is our school communities that must be the agents of change and that, when we educators are empowered to use our professional expertise, we can solve our common challenges and develop new ways to improve outcomes for our students.
Our proposed agreement, which must be ratified by the membership, includes the pay increases we deserve after working for five years without a contract.
Our previous mayor tried to make it impossible for the next administration to give educators the raises they deserve. Michael Bloomberg failed to set aside money in the city budget to pay for the two 4 percents for 2009 and 2010 that other city workers received. He also purposely drained the city's entire labor reserve fund. Over the five long years that Bloomberg refused to negotiate with us, the cost of paying out those raises ballooned. That's the budget that Mayor Bill de Blasio inherited. The cupboard was bare.
Despite that virtually empty labor reserve, we figured out a way forward with our new mayor, who was a willing and respectful negotiating partner. By agreeing to stretch out the retroactive payments and raises, we made our members whole and at the same time won significant raises in the contract's later years. Without the extended payout, we could not have achieved either. When this agreement is paid out, UFT members will have more money in their pockets than if we had done the payout in any other way.
It sounds almost comical to see Mulgrew saying the city's cuboard was bare when the city even then was running a surplus. MORE's Harris Lirtzman broke down the numbers in early 2014 to show how the city could afford a decent contract. Since 2014 black ink has become a regular feature on city balance sheets. I don't recall a time when the city's economy has been healthier. Stretching out the payments of the 2009-2010 money to 2020 cost the city peanuts as an expert from the Independent Budget Office told one of our readers.
Mulgrew referring to de Blasio as a "willing and respecful negotiating partner" sounds ridiculous now as does telling us educators are going to be in the driver's seat. Saying anything about the contract empowering educators sounds completely insane based on the number of abusive administrators, who are out of control in the de Blasio-Farina era, unless Mulgrew was referring exclusively to empowering principals. The mayor and chancellor's idea of "teacher led innovation" seems to be for us to shut up and do as we're told.
It is interesting to note that on healthcare Mulgrew's letter doesn't mention the higher costs we would be forced to accept. All he says on the subject is, "Health benefits and pensions are preserved."
When reviewing his letter, it is easy to reach a conclusion that Mulgrew was more than a little guillable or maybe he was just awe struck by having a mayor who returned his phone calls and talked nicely to him.
In the end, this contract was inadequate when it came out, as this blog pointed out the day it was released, and it is not improving with age. Then again, 75% of teachers and 77% of UFT members overall voted for it so ultimately we bear some of the responsibility, although after rereading Mulgrew's defense of his contract, I can say we were not told anything close to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth by our leader.