UFT President Michael Mulgrew told delegates at their monthly meeting on March 19 that the union’s contract talks with the Department of Education have intensified in recent weeks.
“These talks are moving pretty well,” he said. “We have a partner who wants to treat us like professionals.”
The three arbitrators in the fact-finding panel are now serving as mediators in the negotiations.
Mulgrew said that the talks have focused not only on wages but also on improving working conditions and giving teachers a greater professional voice at the school level.
Mulgrew said the unprecedented increase in resignations of midcareer teachers — those with between six and 15 years of experience — was clearly tied to poor working conditions, including higher class size, excessive paperwork, an unworkable teacher evaluation system and abusive administrators.
“These midcareer teachers stabilize our schools, and it’s very disturbing to us,” he said. “Our working conditions must improve.”
Mulgrew cautioned against believing what is reported in the press about the contract talks. “Those conversations must remain confidential,” he said. “There are people who hate unions and want to sabotage us.”
In his report on state budget talks, Mulgrew said the priority remains funding for the schools. He praised the state Assembly and Speaker Sheldon Silver for standing up for public schools and proposing a superior budget bill.
The Senate one-house bill, he noted, would increase funding for charter schools; stipulate that any co-location approved by the Bloomberg administration cannot be overturned; and give the state the authority to determine the housing and co-location of charter schools in New York City.
“Now the person who hates mayoral control more than anyone else in New York City is Eva Moskowitz, because the mayor won’t give her everything she wants the way she wants it,” Mulgrew said of the Success Academy founder who was a favorite of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Senate bill also includes the education investment tax credit, which Mulgrew called a thinly disguised private voucher scheme that would divert tax dollars from public schools to private schools. It would create a state tax credit for donations to fund student scholarships and would allow the donor to designate where the funding would go.
“Wealthy Wall Street folks have more money than anyone else to donate, and they are going to set up scholarships for the high-end private schools in the city and state,” Mulgrew predicted.
He noted that the tax credit bill was designed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded nonprofit whose mission is to create state legislation and regulations that benefit its corporate sponsors.
Mulgrew also pointed out that the Senate budget resolution does include some good things, including funding for Teacher Centers and Community Learning Schools.
In response to a delegate’s question about his relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who appeared at a charter school rally in Albany with Moskowitz and Senate leaders — Mulgrew was blunt.
“I have a good relationship with the governor, but we have had difficult conversations as of late,” he said. “I told him you can’t stand with Eva Moskowitz and say you’re with us.”
The Delegate Assembly began with a moment of silence for four members: founding UFT member Lionel Knight; Organizing Committee member Ruth Levine; PS 181 Chapter Leader Pedro Pizarro in District 17; and PS/IS 217 Chapter Leader David Claw in District 2.