The teacher contract for the nation’s largest school district has been languishing for years now, with no resolution in site. Now, with Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio poised to put his own imprint on the 1.1 million-student system, it’s starting to resurface as an issue of debate.
The current contract expired in 2009 and has been in “fact-finding,"—basically a term for nonbinding arbitration—after the district and the union reached an impasse over negotiations in 2010. The New York Times’ editorial page brought the issue up over the weekend, and caused some chatter with its recommendations for de Blasio.
One of the big questions on the table, of course, is money, and whether members of the United Federation of Teachers will get retroactive raises in line with what other city workers have received. But other areas are equally worth pointing to. They include:
Seniority, which as the newspaper points out, is still a sticking point. This is partly because of the history of past negotiations: There’s a tendency when contracts go to impasse for arbitrators to “split the baby” in writing their recommendations. This can be good in that it helps reach a compromise, but also can have unintendended consequences. In 2005, fact-finders agreed with the city that seniority-based transfers should end, but also with the union that tenured teachers shouldn’t be let go without cause. The end result was the absent-teacher reserve pool, in which tenured teachers who can’t find jobs after being “excessed” are kept on city payrolls at some expense, and used as substutite teachers. (This is separate from the closed-in-name-only “rubber rooms,” which were solely for teachers accused of malfeasance.)
Teacher discipline is also potentially at issue, partly as a result of increased attention to the issue nationwide after the 2012 Miramonte scandal in Los Angeles. State lawmakers attempted to address the issue in 2012 by changing the arbitration process for handling cases of behavior; the UFT has not been receptive to those changes.
Finally, the New York Times editorial argues that schools should get more flexibility over work rules, as charter schools have. There’s an inherent problem here with wages, in that most teacher contracts set work hours down to the minute. (The Green Dot chain of unionized charter schools is one notable exception.) On the other hand, the New York City contract does allow for a “school-based option” in which various rules can be waived, if the teaching force agrees to it. Perhaps the more interesting and important question here is why more administrators and teachers don’t pursue such options.
To those issues, I would add those of teacher evaluation, which has had a rocky rollout in the state—in part because of another impasse between the district and the union that was resolved only months before the school year started.
The final fact-finding session has been held, but the UFT reports that there is no explicit timeline for when the panel’s nonbinding recommendations might be issued. So the waiting game continues, for now.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.