In an e-mail to teachers union members sent Friday afternoon, new UFT president Michael Mulgrew outlined his priorities for the coming year. At the top of his list is dealing with a budget situation that he says is not likely to improve:
Huge deficits are again on the horizon, and since education consumes a large chunk of the state and city budgets, it will inevitably be a target of the budget cutters again this year. Our job will be to make the case clearly and compellingly to parents and the wider public that more cuts will be devastating for kids.
Another of Mulgrew’s concerns — how teachers use data about their students to improve instruction — could shape up to be pivotal this year. The Obama administration plans to distribute $4.3 billion in federal education funds based in some way on the way states use student test scores to evaluate teachers. Mulgrew writes:
The volume of paperwork remains unmanageable, and now teachers are being asked to use the enormous data being generated about their students to drive their instruction without being given the time, training or access to computers they need to do that task effectively.
Mulgrew also addresses the upcoming contract negotiations, saying that a survey is soon to go out to union members to help guide leaders during negotiations with the city. Mulgrew’s full letter to UFT members is below the jump:
This letter marks my first communication to you as the new president of the UFT, and I want to take this opportunity to let you know that it is an honor to serve you. Leading a union that represents 228,000 people is an enormous responsibility, and I promise to dedicate myself 24/7 to this charge in the months ahead.
The diversity of our union, combined with the professionalism and passion that each of our units – both active and retired – brings to the union, is what makes us strong and binds us together. All of our members do praiseworthy work every day, going above and beyond the call of duty to nurture and serve the people in their care. I know our members in schools work tirelessly for their students, and I want you to know that I will do everything in my power to ensure that we as a union fight for the support and tools that you need to give New York City’s school children the education they need to secure a bright future.
In that regard, our greatest challenge in the year ahead will be navigating the harmful effects of the economic downturn on our schools and our members. School will open in September with cuts of more than $266,000 per school on average. Each school chapter will be on the front line fighting to protect classroom services as much as possible and documenting the harm that these cuts inflict.
Huge deficits are again on the horizon, and since education consumes a large chunk of the state and city budgets, it will inevitably be a target of the budget cutters again this year. Our job will be to make the case clearly and compellingly to parents and the wider public that more cuts will be devastating for kids. Our students shouldn’t pay the price with larger class sizes, overcrowded schools, outdated textbooks and fewer after-school and enrichment programs. It won’t be easy getting our message across when so many New Yorkers are suffering in these times of need. Together with our coalition partners, we will need to mobilize, to lobby and to rally in large numbers to urge that classrooms and wider safety net services be protected. The school system faced $1.4 billion in cuts going into last fall, but thanks to the fierce budget fight that we mounted as a coalition, we were able to dramatically reduce the size of the cut by raising $1 billion for the city school system from the state and federal governments.
Along with budgets, other issues have the potential to be flashpoints in the year ahead. We still have serious concerns that many special education students and English language learners are not receiving the services they need. While major crime is down in our schools, there is always more to be done to ensure that every school and classroom provides a proper educational setting. The volume of paperwork remains unmanageable, and now teachers are being asked to use the enormous data being generated about their students to drive their instruction without being given the time, training or access to computers they need to do that task effectively. And while there will always be issues that we cannot anticipate, the H1N1 virus showed us last year that by working together and keeping our focus on our members and the students, this union will always be there to take care of the schools.
While you deserve all of the credit for the steady improvements in student achievement in recent years, I know that the school system’s relentless focus on standardized testing has taken a toll. Yet somehow you still manage to instill the joy of learning in our kids and to teach the whole child. Every day, I hear stories about teachers, guidance counselors and paraprofessionals who are engaging students in new and creative ways.
With our contract expiring at the end of October, many of you have asked me where we are with negotiations. Our 300-member negotiating committee held its first meeting in July, and in the coming days, you and your colleagues will be receiving in the mail a copy of our contract survey, which is designed to gather input from members across the city and help shape the union’s goals and priorities in the upcoming bargaining. I strongly encourage you to fill it out.
Of course, our union represents more than educators in our public schools. I will fight just as vigorously for the rights of our nurses in private hospitals, our charter school teachers, our Art Institute workers and Lincoln Center teaching artists, our administrative law judges, our UCP workers, our home-based day care providers and the UFT members in all the other chapters that we have organized in recent decades. The same holds true with respect to our retirees; we will use the union’s muscle to protect and – when we can – enhance your benefits as well.
Our union, the largest local in the country, has a renowned and indisputable history of advocacy and results on behalf of our members, our students, our professions and our communities. That commitment, dedication and pragmatism are what define us and set us apart from those who prefer rhetoric to results and “just say no” to progress.
As the UFT’s new president, I will continue the important work of protecting our children’s futures and our members’ professional and economic security. The challenges ahead are immense. The work that we need to do will be difficult. But when we stand and work together, listen and act intelligently, and resist pettiness and partisanship, we accomplish great things.