Teaching and Learning

By Bess Keller & Julie Blair — February 18, 2004 7 min read
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Economy Hinders Teacher Contracts And Leadership of Unions

Tight times do not happy teachers make.

Last week, for example, teachers in Broward County, Fla., approved a new contract by what union leaders characterize as the unusually low majority of 60 percent.

And of that number, “at least a third of the people ... are pretty dissatisfied, but they simply recognized that under the present economic conditions, it was the best contract agreement at this time,” said John Ristow, a spokesman for the 15,000-member Broward Teachers Association.

The school board for the 275,000-student district that includes Fort Lauderdale approved the pact in a closed session Jan. 27 and is set for a final vote this week.

The contract would give teachers an average 3 percent raise for each of the three years of the agreement. Actual percentages are set to range from a third of 1 percent to 15 percent, with more experienced teachers generally reaping more, according to Mr. Ristow. The first year’s raises would go into effect in the current school year, and the third year’s are tied to state funding.

Teachers also stand to get a $2,000 cash incentive to change to a less costly health- insurance plan and $1,000 for extra duties.

The contract includes a “career ladder"—which the state says it will require in every district by next school year—but only about 300 of Broward’s teachers who have earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are eligible for the top two rungs, Mr. Ristow said. Some of those teachers would get up to $20,000 additional a year under the program.

The pact brings to a close negotiations between the National Education Association affiliate and the district that stretch back to last summer and have been punctuated by teacher work slowdowns and protests. The new pay scale runs from $32,700 to $61,411.

Competition in Chicago

Another of this school year’s bitter contract fights appears to have generated more candidates than usual in the race for president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Incumbent Deborah Lynch, who in October presented teachers with a contract that they rejected, faces at least three challengers: Marilyn Stewart, an elementary special education teacher and a member of the union caucus that Ms. Lynch’s group defeated three years ago; William Malugen, a high school teacher who has formed the new Frontline Caucus; and Judy Dever, an elementary teacher and a member of the union executive board, who is running as an independent. Union members have until March 26 to file for the post, and at least one other candidate is expected.

Historians of the 33,000-member American Federation of Teachers affiliate say it has been 20 years since the president’s contest has drawn more than two candidates. And while Ms. Lynch’s camp attributes the number of hats in the ring to the democratic “openness” that many acknowledge has been a strength of her tenure, other observers link it to deep dissatisfaction with the new contract.

The four-year pact, approved by the school board and the union in November, calls for 4 percent annual raises in addition to “step” increases for additional years of experience and slightly higher health-insurance costs. It drew the backing of 55 percent of the members who voted, averting a strike that union delegates had approved after teachers rejected the earlier agreement.

Even those who admire Ms. Lynch, a classroom teacher and union delegate before being elected in 2001, wonder if she was tough enough at the bargaining table. “Because of a lack of experience, she didn’t come out strong, people felt,” said Kristen A. Schroeder, a teacher at the Annie Keller Regional Gifted Center. “I think it will be a close race.”

Showdown in New York

Meanwhile, the beginning in earnest of contract negotiations between the New York City teachers’ union and the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has become a showdown.

City and district officials have been talking for months about the burden of teacher-contract rules, sounding a note so insistent that Randi Weingarten, the president of the 80,000-member United Federation of Teachers, put forward her own proposal for a “thin” pact governing a pilot group of schools. In exchange for many fewer protections than in the current 200-page document, teachers would be given a greater voice in school decisions, she said last fall.

But the city’s labor commissioner, James F. Hanley, arrived at the bargaining table this month with much more—or, it might be said, much less— than that. He put forward a minimalist contract that would end most seniority and tenure rights, as well as hand a wide array of management decisions to school administrators. And the package contained no raises. City officials said instead that the streamlined contract would make for savings that could be used for pay hikes.

The Feb. 6 session lasted less than two hours, and Ms. Weingarten emerged to lambaste city officials. “This proposal is an insult to children, parents, and teachers,” she said in a statement, adding that perhaps the radical contract was meant to divert attention from failing efforts at school improvements. Ms. Weingarten and other officials have predicted an impasse.

Anticipating that possibility, the AFT local is pushing state legislation in Albany that would give its members automatic raises if state officials determined that the administration of Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican who gained broad powers over the school system in 2002, was stonewalling negotiations.

Contract talks were set to resume late last week.

Teacher Retention

Applications on the Web. Reduced-price cultural events. “Professional-growth leaves.” Smaller schools.

The “Teacher Quality Forum” will be available at the Bank Street College of Education soon. Check site news for updates.

Those are some of the recommendations made late last month by a blue-ribbon panel looking for ways to get and keep highly capable teachers for the 1.1 million-student New York City system. The Goldman Sachs Teacher Quality Forum produced the report and was supported by a grant from the Goldman Sachs Foundation, which has its headquarters in the city.

In the area of hiring, the committee said that teachers who take a traditional pathway into the classroom should be given tuition help and other incentives at the same rate as those pursuing an alternative route, which is not now the case. It recommended that the district continue to expand its use of the Web for recruiting teachers and provide summer internships for new hires to help them make a better start in the fall.

The group also urged more research to discover relationships between pathways into teaching, student outcomes, and teacher retention.

The report envisions that new teachers would gather at restaurants and attend cultural events free or at a discount so they would not be priced out of the city’s myriad attractions. It also recommends paid leaves for veteran teachers who would under the program work for up to a year in jobs related to their subjects. A science teacher might work in a lab, for instance.

Finally, to keep teachers in the city’s schools for the long term, the report calls for smaller classes and schools, more time for preparation and collaboration with colleagues, and better principals.

Presidential Choice

Despite how it may look, the White House insists it was only following the will of Congress when it inserted a line item for the first time in its proposed fiscal 2005 budget for the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

In his budget plan released this month, President Bush suggested $7 million be appropriated to the Washington-based ABCTE, said Michael J. Petrilli, an associate deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Education. That money is part of a $35 million, five-year initiative announced last fall that originally was to have come out of the department’s discretionary fund.

The organization is controversial for trying to replace traditional teacher training with a test as an alternative means of licensing teachers.

Congress, however, mentioned the organization by name in its fiscal 2004 spending bill that included the Education Department, setting the precedent for the White House to do so, Mr. Petrilli said.

Any money provided by Congress would be used to expand the assessment system. Two states have signed on to use the ABCTE, though Pennsylvania essentially pulled out earlier this winter. (“Alternative Teacher-Licensing Exam Has Setback in Pa.,” Jan. 28, 2004.)

At the same time, President Bush, as he has every year since taking office, has snubbed the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The rigorous certification process for teachers already in the classroom is recognized by all 50 states. In the past, Congress has appropriated money for the board, most recently $10 million in fiscal 2004.

The administration has long been a fan of the ABCTE as well as other alternative routes into the teaching field.


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