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‘No debate’ on class sizes

Mulgrew blasts city’s inaction on state mandate
New York Teacher

UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Delegate Assembly on March 15 that, despite Mayor Eric Adams’ comments to the contrary, the city must comply with new class-size requirements that have been funded by the state.

“There is no debate and there is no decision for them,” Mulgrew told the delegates. “This is a fully funded mandate from the state of New York that is a law. End of story!”

Mulgrew was referring to the landmark legislation signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul last September to lower class sizes in every grade in New York City over the next six years.

Mentioning his City Council testimony on the city budget earlier that day, Mulgrew said Adams is proposing a half-billion-dollar cut to school funding. The delegates responded with a long, loud boo.

“Boo is right,” Mulgrew said. “This administration keeps acting like well, maybe we’ll lower class sizes and maybe we won’t. It may be easy right now to comply with the law for the first and second years, but we really should be planning on years three, four and five.”

Mulgrew said City Council members grilled city officials at the hearing, reminding them that there needs to be complete compliance with the state law on class size.

“The Council asked them why they were eliminating 38% of the capital plan to create school seats,” Mulgrew said.

The city has to squarely tackle the challenge of lowering the number of students in all classes by 2027, he said. “It’s not just about keeping the core academic classes in smaller class sizes; we have art, we have music, we have all sorts of different specialty classes,” he said. “All of this has to be thought through, and it requires a willing partner.”

Mulgrew scoffed at the city’s claim that the class-size law was an unfunded mandate. “That’s just ridiculous,” he said. “It’s completely funded.”

The union president also discussed with the delegates the city Department of Education’s plans to roll out a new algebra curriculum for junior high and high school students and a choice of three English language arts curriculums for elementary schools in the fall of 2023.

Superintendents — not principals, as has been the case for the last two decades — will make the curriculum decisions, Mulgrew said.

He said the schools chancellor plans to pilot the curriculum initiative in 15 school districts.

Mulgrew said he supported the initiative in principle. The UFT “has absolutely advocated that every teacher gets a curriculum that is appropriate for their students — a real curriculum,” he said.

“That’s how the rest of the country usually works, but that has not been the case in New York City,” he noted. But for the change to be successful, he said, teachers must get the professional development, supplies and materials needed to teach the new curricula.

Turning to the recent uptick in student shootings near schools, Mulgrew said the union is participating in safety task force meetings in every borough.

He praised the UFT School Safety Department for its vigilance and credited Mayor Adams for “drop-bys” that the city has been conducting to check the safety protocol in all municipal buildings, including schools.

Mulgrew advised the delegates to make sure their schools are holding monthly safety meetings and to notify the union if school leaders are not addressing safety issues promptly.

The UFT president assured delegates that members’ pensions “are fine” despite the recent runs on a few mid-sized banks and the fears they have spawned.

“Our pension funds are doing well,” he said, “and we will continue to make sure we protect our retirement security.”

Related Topics: Class Size