a done deal

Teachers get pay bump, evaluation tweaks, and more in $5.5 billion contract deal

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Michael Mulgrew, Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured together last year, each addressed principals of schools in the Renewal program on Monday.

A proposed nine-year contract deal between the city and the teachers union would increase teachers’ pay and simplify the way they are rated, free some schools to design innovative schedules, provide parents with more opportunities to meet with educators, and allow the city to more easily fire teachers who are deemed incompetent or accused of misconduct, officials announced Thursday.

Teachers’ pay would grow by 18 percent by 2020 through spread-out raises and back pay, and they would receive a $1,000 cash bonus when the deal is ratified. The contract between the United Federations of Teachers and the city would expire Oct. 31, 2018, and would preserve teachers’ existing health-care benefits while saving the city $1 billion in health care costs over several years, the officials said.

All told, the deal will cost the city $5.5 billion by the time the last payment is made in 2020, the city said.

At a celebratory press conference on Thursday afternoon, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Mayor Bill de Blasio both praised the deal as a historic agreement representing a new vision for education reform in a large urban school system.

De Blasio is betting that the path to higher student achievement is through cooperation with the union, raising teacher morale and increasing parent involvement. But some of those changes came at the cost of extra learning time for the city’s low-performing students.

His collaborative vision for the school system marks a sharp break from that of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who viewed the teachers union as a barrier to educational change.

“This is what partnership and equal operations look like,” de Blasio said before he embraced Mulgrew at the podium. “This is what respect engenders. Respectful relations allows us to get to the results that our people deserve.”

[If you missed it, we broke the news here and here; live-blogged today’s announcement; analyzed the issues here (backpay and excessed teachers) and here (evaluations and training). If you’re looking for even more context, check out this timeline of UFT contracts over the last 20 years.]

The UFT’s 110,000 members have been without a contract since 2009, and the deal grants them retroactive pay raises similar to those that other city workers got in previous years. An umbrella group of other municipal unions must still approve the deal, which is likely to set a pattern for the raises that they will receive in their own contract negotiations with the city. A committee representing UFT members must also ratify the new contract.

The contract has not been finalized and questions surround some of the changes that officials touted Thursday.

For instance, officials were not able to immediately say where savings came from in changes to the union’s health care benefits. And there is a legal question about whether a new process to remove educators who are deemed unfit to teach will have teeth.

The expedited process would be focused on terminating ineffective teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of about 1,200 educators who are on the city’s payroll but lack permanent positions in schools.

The contract deal says the city must send those teachers to schools that still have vacancies by mid-October in positions they are qualified to teach, according to the union. Fariña said that the teachers are being vetted by the department, “And if we don’t feel they’re ready, we don’t send them out to interviews [with principals].”

Principals have the right to send those teachers back to the pool. If a teacher is sent back twice, a truncated termination process will be triggered, city officials said.

The deal amends a new state-imposed teacher evaluation system that has been criticized for judging some teachers based on the performance of students they do not teach and for overwhelming principals who must now observe and rate teachers multiple times a year. Now, principals will have to consider far fewer criteria when rating teachers — a plan the teachers union opposed when the evaluation system was first being negotiated. Educators who teach grades or subjects that do not take standardized tests will have the option of being evaluated based on their own students, though it was unclear what measures that will involve.

Meanwhile, the city will find it easier to remove teachers for sexual misconduct, which now includes more behaviors, such as inappropriate texting.

Both sides said the agreement is also intended to spur innovation by freeing up to 200 schools from certain city regulations and contract provisions. That would enable those schools to experiment with their schedules, add time to their days or years, or give teachers more input in hiring decisions.

De Blasio framed that piece of the contract similarly to the way he has said he wants charter schools to interact with the rest of the school system.

“Innovations will be shared,” de Blasio said, adding, “and we know it will be easy.”

The deal also rewards teachers for taking on leadership roles or tough assignments, and gives them more professional development time.

Under a new “career ladder” compensation system, high-performing teachers can earn yearly bonuses of $7,500 or $20,000 for allowing colleagues to observe their work or sharing best practices. Teachers who work at certain schools in low-income areas will be paid a $5,000 bonus. Low-rated teachers won’t receive the bonus, the city said.

All teachers will now spend 80 minutes every Monday in school-based professional development, and 35 minutes each Tuesday collaborating with colleagues.

To foster closer ties between schools and families, teachers will get another 40 minutes each Tuesday to communicate with parents through emails or phone calls, meetings, or a class website or newsletter. And parents will get more face time with teachers: Two additional parent-teacher conferences will be added to the school year, and each will last 30 minutes longer than in the past.

Those minutes were reallocated from the 150 minutes a week that schools have previously set aside for tutoring struggling students, thereby reducing instructional time for some.

“It’s a historic day because it is, first and foremost, a great day for children and their families,” de Blasio said.

Wake up to a comprehensive round-up of New York City education news by signing up for our Rise & Shine newsletter here.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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