A Split Decision For Our Kids
This month brought both a real high and a low for public school students. The high mark came a day before Election Day in the form of a tentative two-year contract between the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City’s 100,000 public school educators, and the City of New York. This is great news for teachers and bodes well for the future of education here.
For one thing, the agreement—which still must be ratified—is unprecedented in that it was reached 11 months before the current contract expires, making it the earliest contract agreement ever reached between the city and the UFT. Settling almost a year early brings stability and certainty, particularly after two bitter contract fights. It will allow educators—for the rest of the mayor’s term—to focus on student achievement and success and let our union fight for essential education reforms, including reducing class size, improving student discipline and full-day universal pre-kindergarten.
Another important aspect is an across-the-board pay raise that will boost the salary of the most experienced educators to the $100,000 mark —a milestone that veteran educators in many surrounding suburbs already earn. It also includes a longevity increase for educators who stay in the system for five years, providing another way to improve educational stability and continuity for students.
All of this means that between 2002 and 2008 teacher salaries in New York City have become far more competitive—having risen 40 percent. As a result, we are in a better position to attract—and keep—the best and brightest teachers for our kids. The city’s willingness to help our teachers approach parity with the suburbs—without again demanding they work longer hours—conveys a sense of respect for teachers and a commitment to education. Honoring teachers by providing better compensation boosts morale among the workforce and shows the rest of the world we put a real value on public education.
Unfortunately, this month also brought us the final court decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case.
In that case, parents, educators and community activists asked the state to give New York City enough resources to provide students with a sound, basic education. Governor Pataki fought it for years, but Governor Eliot Spitzer has repeatedly indicated he wants to settle the case quickly by providing the city with the dollars in state education aid that previous court decisions said our city school students deserve. Also, Mayor Bloomberg has embarked upon a capital construction plan that should help address the issues of class size and school safety by providing additional space in modern, technologically advanced and secure buildings.
While the court said the Legislature and the governor must appropriate more funds to New York City’s school children it significantly reduced the amount—to $1.9 billion from the $4 billion to $6 billion all of us thought was needed.
There are many important needs, but none as crucial as lowering class sizes—which are 10 percent to 60 percent higher here than in the rest of the state. Study after study shows that kids in smaller classes outperform children in large classes. There are fewer discipline problems in smaller classes and kids in those classes are more likely to graduate high school and go on to college than students in big classes. Still, our classes are bulging. For example, in the rest of the state there are 20 kids in a class in Sequential Math I, a Regents class; in New York City, it’s nearly 33 students. That’s 63 percent larger!
Governor Spitzer has said he remains committed to providing more than what the Court of Appeals ordered because he—like many teachers, advocates and parents—knows that amount is not nearly enough to give the system the real reform it needs and give our children the kind of education they deserve. Now it’s time for the governor and the Legislature to find a way to give our children the kind of education they richly deserve—and turn this good news/bad news month into one that is strictly good news.#
Randi Weingarten is the President of the United Federation of Teachers in NYC.