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4th October
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, October 4, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

In the final analysis it was the election that ended the long-simmering contract dispute between the United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education (subject, of course, to the ratification of the members). Sources close to the negotiations confirm that it was the mayor who kept the deliberations moving even as his own Education Department officials took a hard line.

Mayor Bloomberg was eager to deny this issue to Fernando Ferrer. By settling with the teachers, the mayor removes the lack of a contract as a Ferrer talking point. Not clear is whether the teachers might endorse the mayor, something I suspect is not likely. But it is now less likely that they would back Mr. Ferrer. The union can turn its attention to winning ratification from the membership, an excuse to remain above the political fray. I view the contract settlement as a victory for Mayor Bloomberg.
The UFT president, Randi Weingarten, also comes out of this negotiation enhanced in stature. She understood that the union was more likely to win a contract before the election than after. She won a settlement, better than the other municipal unions, and gave up little.

In early 2004, Chancellor Klein proposed a contract that would break the union, presenting teachers with an eight-page contract document that would strip the members of nearly all rights. This and his support of charter schools, made the chancellor a hero to many on the right, even as he was pursuing a “leftwing” instructional program.

Two weeks ago, at a conference in Washington, Mr. Klein boasted of a “second term” strategy that would provide for comprehensive merit pay differentials.Other than the expansion of a “lead teacher” program that came from a UFT-sponsored Bronx pilot program, none of these merit pay proposals is incorporated in the contract. And this contract will not expire until halfway though the mayor’s second term, should he win one.

Some close to the negotiations suggest that even as the mayor was pushing for closure, Mr. Klein continued in the role of hardliner. It was reported last year that Mr. Klein was responsible for scuttling a compact between Ms. Weingarten, the mayor, and Governor Pataki, one that would have settled not just the contract but the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

A telling rebuke of Mr. Klein’s strategy was the inclusion in the contract of a clause that prevents teachers from being disciplined over “the format of bulletin boards, the arrangement of classroom furniture, and the exact duration of lesson units.” Ms. Weingarten stressed this in her remarks at the press conference with the mayor yesterday.

When this language was first proposed by the UFT, it was rejected, I am told, as a “deal breaker” by the Department of Education. This goes to the heart of the pedagogy of Mr. Klein’s “Children First” initiative. The inclusion of this language may be a retreat from the instructional programs put in place by the former deputy chancellor for instruction, Diana Lam, and protected by Mr. Klein’s current instructional deputy, Carmen Fariña.

Critics of the UFT may take comfort in the dismantling of some of the seniority transfer provisions of the old contract. But there is little else in the contract that critics can point to as major reform. This is not surprising. After all, the leading critic of the provisions of the old contract, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Sol Stern, has warned for some time that the pedagogical excesses imposed on the teachers have poisoned the waters, precluding more radical change.

Writing in the current issue of Education Next, Mr. Stern observes “The problem is that, because Chancellor Klein has tyrannized all teachers with mindless directives about their classroom practices, he has forfeited any chance of getting significant work-rule changes. Why would any self-respecting teacher be willing to give Chancellor Klein even more power over his or her professional life?”

Meanwhile, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents principals and other Department of Education administrators, is also working under a long-expired contract. Unlike the UFT, which has held off on endorsing a candidate for mayor, a strategy that appears to have paid off, the CSA has cast its lot with the former president of the Bronx,Fernando Ferrer.It remains to be seen whether representative of the principals will have the same success winning a new contract now that the teachers’ pact has been concluded.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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