2000-11-25 / Columnists

School Scope 1125

The silly season of contract negotiations has begun once again and all most teachers have to say is "better late than never" or "here we go again."

Those of you who read the papers know that the teacher’s contract expired last week and that there has been considerable ink about negotiations ever since the protest demonstration held by teachers at City Hall despite the fact that there was little to no ink or discussion of the new contract prior to that event.

Despite the fact that negotiations after the prior pact has already expired are the norm in New York City, this negotiation is going to be far different from those of the past.

There are a number of reasons for that difference.

The mayor has stated over and over that teachers do not work enough hours and that any new pact will have to increase teaching time.

"Teachers don’t work the same amount of time or the same number of days as other people who work for the city," the mayor recently said. "They work considerably less and there is lots of room for increased productivity."

"Teachers do not work all that hard," the mayor added.

Those statements are obviously due to the fact that the mayor does not know what the teachers do each day and probably does not care. I would like to invite him to spend a day with a teacher at MS 53 or at MS 198. That would debase him of the opinion that "teachers do not work all that hard."

One teacher at the recent demonstration attempted to answer the mayor’s argument.

"I have been punched, bitten and slapped. How was your day, Mr. Mayor?"

"I wish the mayor and his representatives would spend a month teaching," UFT president Randi Weingarten told reporters. "Anybody who spends that much time teaching would never again say anything about teaching loads and teacher’s work."

Every job has its requirements, its time away from the main task. To say that the workers are not working when those ancillary tasks are being done is disingenuous at best and a flat-out lie at worst.

Would he tell the city’s lawyers that the time they take getting ready for cases does not count as working time?

Would he tell the city’s firefighters that the time they use waiting for calls does not count as working time?

Would he tell his commissioners that the time they take riding from one appointment to another and drafting his position papers does not count as working time?

Would he tell the city’s police officers that the time they take writing up reports and waiting at central booking for an ADA to write up the papers on an arrest does not count as working time?

Would he tell his ACS caseworkers that the time they spend writing up case reports does not count as working time?

Probably not, but he has no trouble loudly arguing that the time teachers spend writing lesson plans, marking papers and readying activities at home does not count as working time.

Most middle schools work on an eight period (42 minutes each) day. Some elementary schools work on a nine period day but the periods are then shorter.

Of the eight periods, each teacher usually gets five teaching periods, a lunch period, a prep period on which to do his or her administrative work and planning (42 minutes is not enough, however, and much of the work is done at home in the evening and on weekends) and an administrative period which, under the infamous Circular 6, has to be used for an education-related activity such as tutoring, curriculum development, etc. The mayor’s argument that "teachers actually teach only three and a half hours out of their six hour and 20 minute work day" is correct.

It is like saying, however that a firefighter who spends only 30 minutes fighting one fire on a tour only worked 30 minutes that day. It is like saying that a police officer who made one arrest that took 20 minutes and gave out 10 tickets that took two minutes each to write only worked less than an hour that day.

The second argument made by the mayor and his minions, the one about there being no teacher shortage, is also a lie.

The majority of middle schools in this district have vacancies, some only one but others more than one. I am not sure of the situation in the elementary schools, but I would bet that some of them have vacancies as well.

And, it is going to get worse. Thousands of teachers will retire some time after December 16, when the contract allows those on Tier I who are aged 55 and have more than 25 years of service to retire with a full pension.

Even a quick check with people in several schools reveals that dozens of teachers in this district will retire between December and February.

Who will replace them?

The answer is complex. If new teachers are forced to teach in the city’s worst schools, then there will be few candidates to replace those teachers and to fill the vacancies that now exist. Despite what the mayor says, thousands of new teachers fled city jobs in September rather than work in SURR schools and I cannot blame them.

"This is not about pay, it’s about work," the mayor recently said, but he is wrong.

It is about pay. As long as new teachers have to face poor working conditions, dangerous schools and low pay, they will not come. The pay in New York City ranges from $28 thousand to $70 thousand (the top comes after 22 years and demands a master’s degree plus 30 credits). In Yonkers, for example, the pay ranges from $40 thousand to $90 thousand. Why should a young teacher who can go elsewhere come to this city? The answer is, they don’t.

The New York Post, which hates teachers almost as much as it loves cops and Republicans, says that money does not count because "many teachers avoid city schools not solely because of the money but because they see them as no win battlefields – where kids are poorly prepared and undisciplined and where teachers get little support."

The Post is right and it is wrong. It is right because money is not the only criteria. It is wrong because money will draw people and because it is the Post and the people it supports that help to make the schools undisciplined and where teachers get little support.

The mayor’s final lie is that merit pay will work in the city. He says that it is simple, that the teachers who teach the students with the highest scores get the highest raise.

That is not a simple statement but a simplistic one. I have written often on the subject and I am not going over it here again. Think of it in terms of other city jobs. The one who puts out the most fires gets the largest raises. The one who writes the most parking tickets gets the largest raise. The one who picks up the most bags of garbage gets the largest raise.

Speaking of garbage, it is clear the mayor thinks more highly of sanitation workers than of teachers.

One teacher chided him that sanitation workers, who have only a high school degree, earn as much as teachers, who are required to get a master’s degree and must go above that to reach top salary (credits that might cost a teacher upwards of $30 thousand to get). "That statement about sanitation workers is really outrageous," Giuliani snapped back. "You get more vacation."

That about sums up the mayor’s opinion of teachers and it pretty much guarantees that we will not get another contract until the mayor leaves a year from January.

Meanwhile, teachers will leave and they will not be replaced. The system will drop into an abyss from which it may not be able to climb. That will be the mayor’s real legacy and he will not even care.

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