It’s Time to
Stop the Blame Game
Public officials who falter on a pledge generally have two
choices: They can admit the task was too tough and promise
to work harder, or they can blame someone else. Sadly, the
current school system administration has chosen the latter.
During his first mayoral campaign, Mike Bloomberg asked the
public to hold him accountable for the schools. He deserves
credit for that. Since taking office, he and Chancellor Joel
Klein have proposed various policies and initiatives that made
big news splashes and reorganized virtually everything. But,
if public opinion polls are any measure, no one believes the
schools are better. In fact, teachers and parents, by and large,
think they are worse.
Now with the mayoral
election just a few months away, some, including the chancellor,
are taking every opportunity to blame the system’s woes on the contractual provisions the city
previously negotiated with the teachers’ union, the United
Federation of Teachers.
The fact is our teachers have been without a contract for
two years now since the previous pact expired on May 31, 2003.
Even so, we soldier on. Our teachers earn 15 to 20 percent
less than teachers in the surrounding suburbs while teaching
classes that, depending upon the subject, can be up to 60 percent
above the state average. We work in buildings that are overcrowded
and dangerously dilapidated from years of deferred maintenance
All we want is a fair
contract and the support we need to educate the city’s
1.1 million students. Aside from fighting for competitive
salaries and better learning and teaching conditions, the
union has proposed a number of reforms that could directly
help kids in a number of ways.
For example, in recent months, the UFT has:
Sought salary incentives to attract the best teachers to the
Proposed a zero tolerance plan to fire any teacher proven
to have had a sexual relationship with a student.
Offered ideas to streamline the process to help, and failing
that, remove, incompetent teachers.
Instead of negotiating
in good faith, the school system’s
administration has rejected our proposals and embarked on a
media campaign to demonize the union and strip away most of
our contractual rights and protections.
For example, the administration
says it wants more productivity from teachers even though
we are among the lowest paid teachers in the region with
the highest class sizes. We responded by proposing to add
10 percent more instructional time—the
equivalent of four weeks—but the administration rejected
The administration says it wants the best teachers assigned
to the worst schools. A year ago we proposed a school enterprise
zone for the 200 lowest-performing schools in the city. The
proposal included a 15 percent pay differential for everyone
working in the zone. The administration said no.
The administration says it wants to get rid of incompetent
teachers. We offered a way to streamline and expedite the process,
but the chancellor and the mayor rejected that, too, determined
instead to strip teachers of the due process protections that
shield teachers from cronyism and patronage.
We have always maintained that any kind of sexual relationship
between a teacher and a student is unacceptable and that any
teacher proven to have engaged in such activity has no place
in a classroom. Last November, the union proposed a zero tolerance
policy on this issue that would ensure the safety of children
and safeguard teachers against false accusations. The city
The City Council Commission
on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity—headed
by Anthony Alvarado, an educator who turned around District
2 and District 4—recently issued a report saying that
quality teachers, smaller class sizes and a laser-like focus
on the lowest-performing students are the key ingredients to
improving student performance. Numerous studies have shown
that children in smaller classes have higher test scores, better
grades and a greater appetite for learning.
Despite the findings
of the commission—and a $3.3 billion
city budget surplus unveiled earlier this month—Mayor
Bloomberg has said the city does not have the resources to
give raises to teachers, police and firefighters beyond the
5 percent over three years he offered other municipal workers
who were willing to reduce the starting salaries of workers
hired after these latest contracts were approved.
The New York Times noted last fall that the UFT has been a
partner to every positive school reform over the past 40 years.
We want to keep that track record going strong. But because
the school system administration has squandered opportunities
for real educational reform, it has resorted to playing the
blame game and scapegoating. And that means that any productive
contract proposals from the UFT are likely to be rejected in
the months ahead.
Sadly, the biggest
losers in this game are the city’s
1.1 million school children. They and their parents deserve
better, and we are determined to fight to see that they get
Randi Weingarten is President, United Federation of Teachers.