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UFT lists budget priorities for Council members

New York Teacher
UFT President Michael Mulgrew standing in front of room full of people
Jonathan Fickies

UFT President Michael Mulgrew discusses the union's budget priorities.

As the July 1 deadline to pass the city budget approaches, the UFT made a full-court press for city funding for Teacher’s Choice and four other UFT-led education programs: the United Community Schools initiative, the Positive Learning Collaborative, the BRAVE anti-bullying program and the Dial-A-Teacher homework helpline.

The UFT made the case at its May 8 legislative breakfast for Council members and again in testimony submitted to the Council’s Education Committee at a budget hearing on May 20.

At the breakfast, UFT President Michael Mulgrew explained to Council members why these programs are an effective use of city funds. “That money is actually getting into the community,” said Mulgrew. “It’s getting to the students, to the teachers, to the parents, into the classroom.”

Council Speaker Corey Johnson praised the UFT for the success of these initiatives. “These are all programs that we know work, that are proven, that make a difference in the lives of children,” said Johnson. “The Council is going to continue to work with you hand-in-glove together.”

Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger lamented the Department of Education’s priorities, pointing out that there are 1,335 school social workers, 2,958 school counselors and 560 school psychologists, compared with 5,500 School Safety Agents.

“We have more NYPD agents than social supports combined. That is an indictment against the system,” said Treyger, as he asked his fellow Council members to fund programs such as the Positive Learning Collaborative and United Community Schools that provide those supports.

The elected officials heard success stories from representatives about each UFT program.

UFT Director of Personnel Michael Sill shared the benefits of Teacher’s Choice, which reimburses teachers for a portion of their out-of-pocket spending on classroom supplies.

“Teacher’s Choice allows teachers to make decisions for the benefit of students in real time,” said Sill.

The UFT asked the Council to recognize the value of Teacher’s Choice by working with the union to persuade Mayor Bill de Blasio to make it part of the city’s baseline budget going forward.

Rasahn Staley from the Queens HS for Information Research and Technology spoke about how the UFT’s United Community Schools program helped turn around his Far Rockaway school after the setbacks caused by Hurricane Sandy. The graduation rate has soared — from 55 percent in 2013, when the school entered the program, to 82 percent in 2018.

In 31 schools in low-income neighborhoods, the UFT’s United Community Schools program helps foster vibrant school communities capable of helping students surmount barriers to learning. Staley said the program made his school “part of the renaissance of the Rockaways.”

UFT Staff Director Anthony Harmon spoke about the benefits of the BRAVE program, which offers resources and tools to help educators address bullying in their schools, including an anti-bullying hotline.

Union representatives also encouraged the Council to support the Dial-A-Teacher helpline, which takes more than 60,000 calls a year from students and parents seeking help with subjects ranging from basic reading to advanced calculus, and the Positive Learning Collaborative, a joint venture between the UFT and the city Department of Education that uses restorative justice practices to foster a positive learning environment.