negotiating in public

Union: City's evaluation demands torpedoed ATR buyout option

For the last six months, teachers whose permanent positions were eliminated have known that the city might offer to pay them to leave the city’s payroll. But they haven’t known how much the option could yield, complicating their job-hunting calculus.

Now, we know, sort of — a day after UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Wall Street Journal that the option was “dead in the water.”

The option might have been $14,000, or $25,000, or 25 percent of a teacher’s annual salary, or 20 percent, according to conflicting information the union and city released today. But both sides agreed that the deal stalled after the city made the buyout offer contingent on a different city proposal to give raises to top-rated teachers, a plan that the union had rejected back in January.

In dueling press releases, city and union officials sparred over what terms they had discussed for the buyout. City officials said they had offered to pay $25,000 to teachers who had spent more than one year in the Absent Teacher Reserve if the teachers would resign from the Department of Education.

But union officials said the city’s numbers were misleading. The $25,000 option, they said, would only have applied to ATRs with enough education and experience to put them at the top of the city’s salary scale. Other teachers who had spent more than a decade working in city schools would have netted much less, they said, because the city wanted to cap the offer at 20 percent of each teacher’s annual salary. (The city said the cap was 25 percent of the annual salary.) One-fifth of the average salary of mid-career teachers in the ATR pool, union officials said, would have amounted to just a $14,000 payout.

The city-union dispute over numbers reflected far more significant ideological differences over how to reward excellent teaching and urge weak teachers out of the system.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott first proposed the buyout plan in May during a speech in which he also vowed to purge the city’s teaching corps of teachers who receive “unsatisfactory” ratings for two years in a row. At the time, union officials said lauded the city for arriving at a policy proposal that they said they had suggested for years. As recently as mid-August, as teachers in the ATR pool rushed to find new positions, union officials said the buyout option was still in negotiations and that one might make its way to teachers this fall.

But this week, Mulgrew told the Wall Street Journal, “We thought it was a ruse from the beginning.”

Union officials said they had come to that conclusion after the city responded to their counter-offer on the size of the buyout by adding a new condition to the same terms it had previously proposed. The city’s updated offer, made in late August, would have established a buyout only if the union also agreed to let the city give $25,000 raises to teachers with two consecutive “highly effective” ratings on an evaluation system that is not yet in place. The union had rejected the plan as merit pay within hours of when Bloomberg proposed it in January.

David Weiner, the Department of Education’s deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality issues, today explained that the city had paired the initiatives because the increased pay would reward top teachers and the buyout would solve a problem posed by a set of teachers he characterized as weak.

“In our opinion, ‘highly effective’ should be the most well paid teachers and by offering that salary increase we feel we could be able to retain them at much higher levels. That was something we really were incentivized to do,” Weiner said. “At the same time our ATR pool is a much lower-quality group of teachers.”

Of the 800 teachers in the ATR pool at the end of last year, a third had been brought up on disciplinary charged and nearly a third had received an “unsatisfactory” rating in the last five years, Weiner said. “Folks qualifying for this based on their data were actually a much lower-quality group of individuals,” he said.

In his last message to principals, former chancellor Joel Klein characterized members of the ATR pool as “teachers who either don’t care to, or can’t, find a job.” In fact, the ATR pool was created in a 2005 contract deal between the Bloomberg administration and the union to house teachers whose positions are eliminated, either because of budget cuts or because their schools are shrinking or closing. But the city has long criticized the ATR pool as being a drag on the city’s schools budget because its members are paid their full salaries even though they do not occupy regular teaching positions.

In a statement today, Mulgrew suggested that the city’s political stance on ATRs had adversely affected negotiations over the buyout option.

“Despite the DOE’s mismanagement of the hiring process and the political needs of the mayor, we will continue to fight for the children in our schools, and the rights of the teachers in the ATR pool who are working hard in schools every day,” he said.

He was responding to a statement from the city, in which Walcott touted not only the buyout option but also Bloomberg’s proposal to raise the salaries of teachers who land top ratings on an evaluation system that is not yet in place. The union rejected that proposal as soon as it was proposed in January.

“In an effort to block any and all progress, Mr. Mulgrew has misrepresented our offers to the public, but we will continue to make proposals that reward our best teachers and remove those who are ineffective out of the classroom and off the payroll,” Walcott said in the statement.

Both union and city officials said they had devised their buyout offers based on payouts that would likely induce ATRs to leave the system. But none of the price points they said were discussed would have swayed most of the teachers GothamSchools spoke to this fall about the buyout option.

In August, when the option was still on the negotiating table, one teacher who had spent five years in the reserve pool said she was considering not applying for new jobs because she wanted to leave the buyout option open.

“Everything I’ve taught [via the ATR pool] is outside of my license area. But the truth is, if I accept a new position, I’d be ineligible for the buyout,” said the teacher, who asked not to be identified. “I might not take a position.”

But another teacher said no buyout would be large enough to convince him to give up on teaching in city schools.

And this week, a veteran teacher who is entering her second year in the ATR pool, said during a Department of Education hiring fair that companies such as IBM offer employees buyouts that equal hundreds of thousands of dollars. The department’s likely offer was just too small, said the teacher, who asked not to be identified because she was looking for another teaching position.

“The buyout wouldn’t be real,” said the teacher. “I would take it, if I could retire and not end up on the streets. It’s just not a realistic buyout if you couldn’t live on it.”

Their sentiments were similar to what other teachers told NY1 this week:

“They wouldn’t offer me enough,” said teacher Judith Allainer. “$10,000? Come on. When I’m making much more than that?”

“What would I like?” said [teacher Jonathan] Gibbs. “Give me years on my pension. If I’m a 15-year teacher, give me 20 years and I’ll take a buyout.”

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led leaders to widen school improvement strategies. They also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede