I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Aftermath of the Newark Teachers Contract

I hate to say "I told you so," but...
PATERSON, NJ – About 400 city teachers rallied at Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting at the Kennedy High School complex, protesting because they are in their third year without a new labor contract.
Chanting phrases like “Settle now!” and holding protest signs, the raucous crowd of educators complained that they have not received a pay increase since the 2009-2010 school year. Several teachers spoke during the meeting’s public portion.
“We are asked to do more and more and more with no raise,’’ Toni Gennarelli, a teacher at School 5, told city school officials. “We have to do all you ask with no raise. It’s disrespect and it’s disgusting.’’
In an interview during the rally, Gene Harvell, the second vice-president of the union, the Paterson Education Association, said the two sides were in the fact-facting stage of negotiations, one of the final steps before an impasse could be declared. Harvell said the state’s is pushing to include a merit pay system in the contract, something he said officials have pushed harder for after it was part of the settlement with teachers in Newark, New Jersey’s other school district that’s under Trenton’s control. [emphasis mine]
Yeah: I told you so.

A little recent history: When Facebook founder and Chris Christie supporter Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to Newark's schools, it soon became clear that money wasn't going to go into the classroom. Despite the fact that merit pay has never worked, the state - which, again, controls both Paterson and Newark - wanted to use a big piece of the money to implement an incentive system that was never defined in the Newark teachers' contract agreement.

There is, however, no doubt that the merit pay system will use standardized tests to determine who gets the bonuses. Which makes it even more amazing, to my mind, that the leadership of the Newark Teachers Union and their national umbrella organization, the American Federation of Teachers, supported the use of merit pay in the contract.

Because Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, has gone on record denouncing the use of tests to measure teacher effectiveness as "junk science." She's right - but she still supported its use to determine merit pay bonuses in the Newark contract. She even went so far as to tacitly agree with Chris Christie that the contract was a model for other districts - even if those districts don't have a California internet billionaire willing to drop a pile of money into their district.

So now Paterson's teachers have to reap what Weingarten has sown. What's worse is that the local - like the vast majority of locals in the state - is affiliated with the NJEA, and not the AFT. So Paterson's teachers have to live with the consequences of deal negotiated by labor leaders they didn't even elect.

I said this back when the members of the NTU were considering whether to take the deal that Weingarten and NTU's president, Joe Del Grosso, negotiated for them: despite my many misgivings, I can't blame any teacher in Newark for taking the deal. Those educators had worked without a contract for years, and a big pile of money was put in front of them, albeit with strings attached. I'm willing to give Weingarten and Del Grosso the benefit of the doubt that this was the best deal they could get, and I think it was fine to put the deal in front of the members (although a little more engagement with the teachers opposed to the deal would have gone a long way to help unity).

That said, I do think Weingarten made a mistake in not clearly stating that this deal is not replicable across the state and across the country. I don't see anyone lining up to dump millions of dollars into a contract in Paterson or anywhere else. It's wrong for teachers anywhere to have to feel like they have to take a deal that includes merit pay just because Newark did.

There is another state-controlled district in New Jersey: Jersey City. The local teachers union president, Ronnie Greco, recently stood up and said he wouldn't take a deal that included merit pay and many other provisions that would have been bad for teachers and for students.

That's the kind of solidarity - and, frankly, spine - that teachers unions need right now. We need to let our brother and sister teachers in Paterson know that we stand with them and we will fight to keep them from having to accept a contract based on "junk science." They deserve no less from the rest of us.

We can fall apart, or we can stand together. We can go it alone, or we can understand that agreements we reach in other districts and states have consequences for all of us.

What's it going to be?

This blog proudly supports AFTNJ, the NTU, the AFT, and the Paterson Education Association.


ad77 said...

Seriously, what is wrong with these Paterson teachers?

Inspired leaders made sure they got the very best in professional development from their $7,500 a day consultant!

And they are still not happy!?!?!?

Perhaps there should be a study here of Highly Qualified School Turnaround Companies / consultants and their impact on those that they teach / mentor. This would be something like linking spending to outcomes to be absolutely sure that it's the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Giving people the benefit of the doubt is fine when there is a limited track record to judge them by.

That is hardly the case with Ms. Weingarten, who has persistently demonstrated her willingness to accept the premises of corporate education reform (empty sound bites for membership consumption and misdirection notwithstanding) and "collaborate" (her term, not mine) with those undermining the public schools and teachers.

As for evidence, look no further than

- her persistent support for mayoral control of
urban school districts, including unilateral
support for continuing it NYC in 2009, against
recommendations by her own governance
Governance Committee.

- her silence when Michael Bloomberg bought an
illegal third term, and her de facto endorsement
of that third term in 2009.

- her negotiating the catastrophic 2005 contract,
which eliminated seniority transfers and opened
the door to the epidemic of school closings
door to the epidemic that followed.

- her close relations with Eli Broad (who has
spoken of her as an "investment") and Bill Gates.

- her sponsoring of workshops featuring for-
profit opportunities in education at the oligarch-
dominated Aspen Institute.

- her successor and protege's agreeing to
teacher evaluation laws based on statistically-
unstable Value Added measures.

I'm sure many teachers who work in districts where Ms.Weingarten has helicoptered in and foisted contracts based on Broad/Gate poliices could add to this list.

How many sell-outs arre needed before we stop giving her the benefit of the doubt?

In fact, here is no doubt, Randi Weingarten is one of Them.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the typos. I promise better proofreading next time!

Duke said...

ad77, the story of Mike & Shirley Miles needs to be told again and again:


Maybe I should just link to this every time I write about Paterson.

Michael, Weingarten is a big girl, and she should have to defend her record in NYC. I'm happy to have legitimate criticism like yours hosted here, and I'm happy to have her respond here in kind.

Mrs. King's music students said...

I think we all know that merit pay is just another divide and conquer tactic aimed at pitting one group of teachers against another in the national campaign to break up a powerful lobby. It worked in NJ because the NJEA has been the weakest link in the NEA for a long time anyway, and many of it's members (including me) believe that aligning with Christie or the NJEA at this point is 6 of one and half a dozen of the other. The fact is that untenured teachers are the last of the indentured servants, and the NJEA has the unmitigated gall to brag about a decline in attrition from 50% to 47% of new teachers over a span of 4 years! In short, half of the teachers entering this profession pay dues for 3 years before the NJEA has "an obligation to represent them". This cowardice is especially easy to see in Trenton where 50% of the workforce is pinkslipped every April while the union looks the other way. In my opinion, the only way to empower the actual workers is to make joining the NJEA voluntary not mandatory and force the NJEA to put its membership first.

technokat said...

Mrs. King's music students, you have bad information. The NJEA local associations protect the 3-year employees--you mean non-tenured staff--from contract violations, and these local bargaining units also are responsible for negotiating the contracts themselves. There are obviously no tenure charge protections for non-tenured staff. Your suggestion of "voluntary membership" would be a disaster or all staff members.

Mrs. King's music students said...

Technokat my information is first hand and rooted in experience. The NJEA is self serving and ineffective at best and downright corrupt at worst. And as a veteran of 2 Donaldson Hearings before 2 separate BOEs, that 'protection' afforded to the 47% of non tenured teachers who just say no to teaching 1day short of tenure speaks for itself. I could go on about my local bargaining rep who told me the principal gave her the job she wanted in return for cutting me loose w/o a peep. Or the Uniserve Rep who asserted "I got where I am today by keeping my mouth shut till I got tenure - no matter what". "You should know that men don't like women who outperform them at work!" And this w/in months of me bringing in thousands of dollars of NJEA PRIDE $ to my district under her supervision.

I think voluntary membership is just what the doctor ordered for putting the NJEA back to work. For example, collecting data in districts with "revolving door" positions that allow them to fire 8 music teachers in a row w/o cause to keep the budget down. And how about sanctions for administrators and union reps who award/accept choice jobs and perks for throwing dues paying members under the bus?

technokat said...

I'm sorry that you have had two Donaldson hearings. Non-tenured staff can be let go if an admin doesn't like the way they part their hair. I faced non-renewal in a district that I was glad to be forcefully leaving. Subsequently, I interviewed for a position elsewhere, and not only got the job, but I've been in that district for 13 years. Some districts are not a good fit for a myriad of reasons. If one of the reasons is corruption, then they did you a favor. Why would you want to work there?

It's important to know that not every school district runs their non-tenured staff out if town at the very end, and as well not every local association operates how you've painted the picture. It's a travesty that your two bad experiences are the only ones you can draw upon to pass judgement. The law is the law, and NJEA must operate within the confines of it. Yes, it stinks for non-tenured staff, but all tenured staff has had to live with the possibilities of non-renewal.

BTW, if a district cannot keep music teachers, the parents need to be organizing a protest. You, however, need to move on. There are better places to teach in NJ. Trust me...I went from a horrific district to one where I actually feel valued for my hard work as a music teacher, if you can believe it.