UFT reaches landmark contract to move schools forward

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The United Federation of Teachers and New York City leaders announced a historic proposed nine-year contract on May 1 that they say demonstrates the extraordinary progress possible in public schools when a city works in partnership with its educators.

At a City Hall press conference, UFT President Michael Mulgrew called the proposed agreement the "contract for education."

Mulgrew, who is an AFT vice president, says the agreement, which must be ratified by the membership, gives educators the opportunity to do their jobs the way they always wanted to do them. "The solution to great education exists in each and every school right now," he says. "We just needed to create a platform and an environment that allows them to do what they have dedicated their lives to do, which is helping children learn."

Mayor Bill de Blasio says the negotiations represented "a rare opportunity to re-imagine what our schools should look like."

Under the deal, the more than 100,000 teachers, guidance counselors, nurses and other UFT members in the schools would get an 18 percent pay increase that includes two retroactive increases of 4 percent that have already been paid to other city unions. They will receive a 1 percent pay increase every May for three years beginning in May 2013. In May 2016, they will receive a 1.5 percent raise, followed by 2.5 percent in May 2017 and 3 percent in May 2018. Members would also receive a $1,000 bonus upon ratification.

The proposed agreement covers the period from Nov. 1, 2009, to Oct. 31, 2018.

The city and the UFT have identified a menu of potential significant ways to cut costs on healthcare while maintaining benefits for city employees. These measures, such as more efficient purchasing of healthcare services, must be approved by the Municipal Labor Committee.

The tentative agreement also provides more focused professional development for paraprofessionals. "This is the first time we've had training that will be so specific," says Shelvy Abrams, chair of the UFT paraprofessional chapter, a member of the PSRP program and policy council, and an AFT vice president. "It will really help our paras deliver the best possible service, especially to our most vulnerable students."

The tentative agreement addresses two critical priorities for UFT educators: addressing the problems with the teacher evaluation system and reducing unnecessary paperwork.

Teacher evaluations will become simpler and fairer. Evaluations will now be focused on eight of the 22 components of the Danielson Framework for Teaching. The system for rating teachers in non-tested subjects will be fairer. Teacher artifacts will be eliminated from the evaluation process. And, moving forward, fellow educators—rather than third parties—will review the work of a teacher rated ineffective.

Up to 200 schools with a track record of collaboration may be granted flexibility with DOE rules and the UFT contract in order to try new school strategies.

"We have hundreds of great schools all over this city," Mulgrew says. "We're telling them it's okay to experiment, to do things differently."

The agreement gives educators at each school options to reconfigure their workday—without adding a minute—to create time for meeting with parents, engaging in professional development and doing other professional work.

"It's not about adding time, but how do you use the time that you have more effectively?" says Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

New teacher leadership positions paying between $7,500 and $20,000 more per year will give teachers the opportunity to share effective classroom strategies with colleagues.

Fariña says she is most excited about the contract's emphasis on peer-to-peer professional development and the flexibility that will allow schools and teachers to innovate.

The agreement also fosters parent involvement by carving out time in the work day for educators to engage with parents and increasing the number of parent-teacher conferences.

"In this agreement, parents are treated as the crucial partners they need to be," de Blasio says.

Mulgrew and city leaders say the contract signals the start of a new era in public education in the nation's largest city.

After the union's last contract expired on Oct. 31, 2009, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted on a pay freeze for teachers and later tried to lay off thousands of educators. Negotiations for a new contract never got off the ground.

"The last five years engendered such frustration—a logjam that seemed so often intractable and so wrong and so unnecessary, with so much rancor, and one that I know the members of the UFT deeply wanted to move past," de Blasio says.

"The teachers and educators in New York City have gone a long time without getting any proper respect," Mulgrew says. "Teachers now have a fair deal." [United Federation of Teachers]

May 2, 2014