contract sport

Mulgrew mum on negotiations, but offers plenty of praise for city leaders

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew won’t talk about ongoing contract negotiations, but he is more than happy to praise the city officials on the other side of the table.

“We’re doing our work,” Mulgrew said repeatedly. As for the new leadership in city government, he said, “It’s nice to have people who understand education.”

At stake in those negotiations are billions in retroactive pay for teachers and a number of contentious issues like changes to teacher evaluations. In Crown Heights on Wednesday morning to promote a new partnership that will bring free reading glasses to needy students, Mulgrew indicated that the personalities around that negotiating table were meshing in a way they hadn’t in years.

“Moving education forward is something that we now have an opportunity to do because we now have people who are teachers in terms of the [leadership of the] Department of Education. And we have to make schools about education and not about political ideologies or agendas, which is what has happened for the last 12 years,” Mulgrew said, referring to his clashes with the Bloomberg administration.

As students cycled through eye exams and received new prescriptions in an optometry van parked outside P.S. 335, the union president repeated some familiar goals, including making changes to the teacher evaluation system that was rolled out for the first time this year.

“When it came out, we were like, it’s fine,” Mulgrew said of the evaluation system. “But I think with people who understand education sitting at a table, we’ll be able to come up with a system that makes a little bit more sense and is actually about helping the teachers and not about some craziness that a bunch of lawyers have put their fingers all over—all about a compliance mechanism rather than a support system, which it should be.”

The Wednesday event was a rare appearance for Mulgrew, who has kept a low profile over the last few months. As battles over charter school space and pre-kindergarten dominated the news cycle, Mulgrew chimed in only with short statements sent through union representatives, staying far from the center of the disputes.

Now, he’s focused on winning five years worth of raises for his 125,000 members, who have been without a contract since 2009. Mulgrew took over the UFT just months before its contract expired, making this the first contract he’ll have negotiated as union president.

The union also wants to place more than 1,000 teachers who are part of the “absent teacher reserve” pool due to budget cuts, school closures or for disciplinary reasons, into full-time positions.

The union’s goal is to wrap up the contract talks before the end of June so changes can be in effect for the next school year. Those could include changes to school schedules, like adding time to the day or adding minutes dedicated to professional development.

Mulgrew has spent much of his tenure at war with the Bloomberg administration over school closures, charter school co-locations and ill-fated contract talks. Four months after Bloomberg departed office, Mulgrew continued to bring up the union’s tenuous relationship with the city in recent years.

Now, the union president is projecting a much different tone. Mulgrew declined to criticize de Blasio’s singular focus on pre-kindergarten, which some have said has come at the cost of other education initiatives, and offered praise for the chancellor as well.

“It’s very nice to have an elected official make a promise during a campaign and then say, ‘I’m going to get it done,’” he said. “Chancellor [Carmen] Fariña has been doing an immense amount of work and she understands what needs to be done.”

Though Bloomberg is gone, Mulgrew and the union still face resistance from advocacy groups seeking to continue the previous administration’s policies. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis repeated her group’s call to reduce the Absent Teacher Reserve by taking its teachers off the city’s payroll.

“It’s nice to hear that the adults are getting along, but will this lead to better outcomes for kids or will it put 1,000 ineffective teachers back into the classroom?” Sedlis said in a statement. “That’s what really matters.”

Want the latest in New York City education news? Follow Chalkbeat on Facebook or @ChalkbeatNY on Twitter.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.