On the first workday after negotiations with the city over new teacher evaluations broke down shortly before a deadline to maintain federal funding, UFT President Michael Mulgrew is defending his call for a third-party negotiator to broker a compromise.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott laid out a case against the union’s request in a New York Post op/ed today. Mulgrew, in contrast, has taken to the airwaves, appearing Monday night on NY1′s Inside City Hall and this morning on John Gambling’s radio show.
Whether third-party arbitrators would rule on appeals for teachers who get low ratings was a key sticking point in negotiations between the city and the union. Now, a secondary impasse has opened over arbitration about the arbitration — that is, whether a third-party negotiator should figure out final teacher evaluation details for the city and union.
Both Inside City Hall host Errol Louis and Gambling, whose show airs daily on WOR 710, pushed Mulgrew to explain how third-party arbitration would close the ideological divide separating the city and union.
“Tens of thousands of teachers elect you, millions of New Yorkers elect the mayor, and yet some third unelected person now has to decide one of the most important questions?” Louis asked.
Arbitration would not be a “best-case scenario” but represents a process to get a new evaluation system in place, Mulgrew said.
“I’m willing to abide by whatever [arbitrators] decide,” he told Gambling. “If it comes out that I dont like it, ahead of time I’m going to say I will agree to it.”
In a statement, Walcott said he rejected the union’s “last-minute” proposal for arbitration because he is not willing to accept the union’s demands.
“This is frankly too important to leave to an arbitrator,” he said.
Currently, teachers who appeal low ratings have their cases heard by a third party, but Walcott makes the final determination about whether their rating stands. Under the union’s proposal, the third-party decision would be binding.
On Friday, Walcott decried one appeals system that has employed third-party arbitrators: the process for reviewing cases of teachers accused of misconduct rather than saddled with a poor evaluation. Back in May, Walcott traveled to Albany to ask legislators to let city employees review the cases of those teachers — something that union officials said they would not accept. At the time, state officials said the city’s arbitration procedures for those cases were already the most efficient in the state.
In the interviews, Mulgrew also said he hoped for a speedy resolution to the conflict that would get the $60 million in grants to 33 struggling schools flowing again. In addition to the nearly $60 million that hinged on the deal this school year, millions of Race to the Top dollars depend on the city and union reaching an agreement by June 30. The city is counting on those funds to pay for teacher training and support for struggling schools, among other things.
“We’re still hoping to get this agreement done,” Mulgrew said on Inside City Hall. “We still have some time.”
State Education Commissioner John King last week sounded firm on the funding freeze. But speaking with Gambling — who finished the interview by saying, “I’m not sure I completely understand what is going on” — Mulgrew suggested that King could reinstate the funding at any time.
“He has suspended — suspended — which means he can always put it back in,” Mulgrew said.
“He understands the need for a good evaluation system as well as I do,” Mulgrew said.