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A defiant Mulgrew says union won't wait for Bloomberg's exit

After more than a decade at war with Mayor Bloomberg, the UFT has increasingly seemed to be looking forward to the day his successor takes office.

But in a 30-minute speech to members at their annual conference on Saturday, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the union couldn’t sit back until January 2014. Instead, he said he would move forward on new initiatives that he said were central to the union’s values, with or without financial or political support from the city.

“I want to draw a picture of what we know our schools can be and the central role that our union must play in making that happen,” Mulgrew said. “Why do I say ‘we must’? Because more than any other organization, the UFT is positioned to lead the effort to make New York schools the greatest school system in the United States.”

Mulgrew announced in his speech that he would be giving out $300,000 in planning grants to a school that offered the best proposal to transform itself into a one-stop community shop. The “collective impact” grant is meant to help bring in an array of services that would be available to the larger school community and go well beyond the traditional K-12 classroom education.

In announcing the grants, funded by the UFT, the City Council and the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, Mulgrew said he didn’t care if the Department of Education was on board or not.

“It doesn’t matter to me if the city and this current administration does not want to engage in this process,” Mulgrew said. “We are moving forward.”

Mulgrew’s vision for the grant is based on visits to Cincinnati, which has turned all of its more than 50 district schools into “community schools” that rely on partnerships with businesses and non-profits to provide an array of services in their schools. The school buildings stay open until late into the night and on the weekends, providing early childhood centers, adult education, open-gym basketball, translation services, SAT tutoring, and food bank centers to the general public. Local hospitals embed fulltime nurses in the schools to provide free health, dental and vision services.

“It’s an amazing thing to walk into a school and to see so many different services, seamlessly aligned,” Mulgrew said of his visits to Cincinnati.

Each Cincinnati school program employs a resource coordinator and costs millions of dollars, but they are funded almost entirely through the partnerships groups that operate in the community. They come as at a limited cost to city taxpayers, said a Cincinnati official who presented at the conference.

“The entire community has taken responsibility for the schools,” P.G. Sittenfeld, a Cincinnati councilman.

Union officials said a request for proposal for the grant would be released on Monday.

Mulgrew’s speech was the highlight of the conference, which included a education expo and a workshop with Charlotte Danielson. Three congress members, eight state lawmakers and 20 city council members attended the speech. Four prospective mayoral candidates, Scott Stringer, Bill De Blasio, Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson, were there as well.

The UFT Mulgrew also hosted dozens of parents from the union’s new parent leadership academy, formed recently to help parents learn more about the school system and get more involved in education policy decisions.

Mulgrew again criticized the city for its failure to launch its own parent academy, first promised in 2009.

“There’s a big group of parents here today, they waited three years for the parent academy of New York City to be started,” Mulgrew said. “Well it never happened. They never did it.”

Sitting just a few feet away from Mulgrew during the speech was Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who declined to applaud with the rest of the hundreds of other parents, teachers and elected officials in the audience. Walcott managed to sidestep any personal criticism from Mulgrew, however, and even drew applause for his prolific school visits.

“He is constantly in the schools,” Mulgrew said.

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