F.U.S.E. News & Updates June 16, 2014

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F.U.S.E. News & Updates June 16, 2014

June 17, 2014 - 13:48

Welcome the New Superintendent

On Thursday night, the Board of Education is hosting a reception to welcome New Rochelle’s new superintendent, Dr. Brian Osborne. All members of the community are invited -- 7:30 p.m. in the House IV Cafeteria (off Braemar) at New Rochelle High School.

Contract Negotiations

It really is “crunch time” for the union and the school district. As I mentioned last week, if there is to be a contract offered to the members for their consideration and ratification, then negotiations must conclude this week.

The union and district negotiators met last week for several hours and hammered out the rough outline of a tentative agreement. It was a productive, though sometimes contentious, meeting and the “framework” of an deal exists. There are only one or two items that need to be resolved before the union can present an agreement to our members – but it is these items that will determine if we will have a proposal to present to our members.

The proposed settlement will most likely be a one year contract. The union is holding fast to its commitment to protect step increments for our members “working their way up” the salary table while working to make sure that our School Related Professionals, (SRPs), like teachers and other staff members, receive a longevity increment after many years of dedicated service.

Because of the unique structure of our salary schedule’s “step increases,” our negotiations team is firm in its belief that delaying or reducing these long awaited and long promised increases would be a breach of trust with our members. Similarly, the union is hoping to “balance the scales” of fairness with negotiating a “longevity increment” for our SRPs. When the union obtained a “service” or “longevity” increment” for staff approximately 16 years ago, it was unable to obtain an agreement that included SRPs for that increment. Over the ensuing years, the union has made efforts to expand this “service increment” to include all members of the union, and we are hoping that this is the year we will be successful.

Of course, in this time of financial restraints and state mandated “tax levy caps,” our local, like most other locals, has been put in the position of having to accept the financial limitations these factors impose on collective bargaining. Our local union, like teachers’ and school employee unions around the region have had to make some tough decisions and difficult choices in order to arrive at an agreement and settle a contract. The one-year deal that is under consideration will follow the pattern of many of the settlements reached in school districts around our region in the last few months.

Our next negotiations session is on Wednesday of this week – one way or the other, members will know by Friday if there will be a contract for them to consider for ratification, or if our current contract will expire in July without any “successor agreement” in place.

Vergara v. California and Its Impact on New York

Last week, Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu in Los Angeles ruled that five California statutes protecting the job security of schoolteachers were unconstitutional. Judge Treu invalidated laws protecting teacher tenure and seniority. He said that the effect of these laws was to deny high-quality education to minority children by making it difficult to fire “grossly ineffective” teachers.

NYSUT President Karen Magee responded quickly, and forcefully, to this mis-guided judicial decision. In her statement, she said “This is a horrendous decision in a case that was never about helping students or improving California public schools. From the beginning, this case — brought by millionaires, their PR firms and front-groups — has been all about attacking unions and denying dedicated professionals in California classrooms a voice on the job and a fair process for employment decisions. This case will be appealed and NYSUT is optimistic more even-handed judges will overturn this meritless decision. “

The California lower court judge did not rule that tenure is unconstitutional, but that California’s teacher dismissal process could take years and was too complex. While NYSUT attorneys are analyzing the Vergara decision, it is clear that there are significant differences between California and New York processes for tenure. New York teachers have a longer probation period of three years. Earning tenure in New York simply means that teachers, if charged with incompetence or wrongdoing, are entitled to a fair hearing before they can be disciplined or fired. In America, we call that due process of law, and it is disturbing that so-called education reformers are so eager to see this fundamental, constitutionally protected right taken away from dedicated professionals.

New York’s tenure law has been streamlined in recent years to ensure that disciplinary cases are completed within five months. Most are resolved even more quickly. And while New York’s teacher evaluation process has its flaws, it requires multiple measures of teachers’ effectiveness, an important safeguard.

Without seniority protections, the oldest and more highly paid teachers will be the first to go whenever there are economic layoffs, regardless of their competence or dedicated years of service to their school district and students. It is telling that the corporate sponsors of Vergara are not concerned with preventing teacher layoffs, but only turning colleagues against each other when layoffs occur.

NYSUT is committed to a fair evaluation system that ensures only the best teachers stand in front of a classroom educating children. In the end, tenure laws like those in California, New York and other states benefit students and help ensure good teaching. They mean educators cannot be arbitrarily fired for speaking out on behalf of their students, as many teachers have done in raising concerns with over-testing.

Tenure ensures teachers can advocate for what their students need — such as up-to-date textbooks or extra help —– without fearing their employment is dependent on whim. While widely misunderstood, tenure laws merely ensure that competent teachers can function as professionals, and that a fair process is in place for determining teacher effectiveness.

The disturbing trend in America today, supported by billionaires like the Walton family and the Koch brothers, is to take away union protections and the employment rights of working people. Teachers are their current target. The students their so-called reformers claim to protect would face a world of diminished opportunity if they are allowed to prevail.

Writing in the New York Review of Books, well known education expert Diane Ravitch, a longtime advocate for real school reform writes that “the ruling and the attention it [the Vergara decision] has received have already distracted from the genuine inequalities that harm minority children. It does not address overcrowded classes, the elimination of arts programs, or the lack of resources for basic needs, including libraries, librarians, counselors, after-school programs, and nurses. Nor does it address segregation or poverty, both of which are root causes of poor academic performance.

It pretends that great teachers will magically appear after principals gain the power to fire teachers without the necessity of hearings. But inner-city schools already have high teacher turnover and difficulty attracting well-qualified teachers. What’s needed most in schools that serve the poorest children is adequate resources, a full curriculum, and a stable, experienced staff. The Vergara decision will do nothing to improve working conditions, to attract better qualified teachers, or to increase the resources available to the neediest children.”

Read Ravitch’s article here.

In an open letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, AFT President Randi Weingarten takes him to task for voicing support for the Vergara decision and echoes Ravitch when she writes “the Vergara decision will set us back in our effort to help all kids succeed. We must focus on recruiting and retaining great teachers. We must hone in on poverty, underfunding and other factors that went unaddressed in the Vergara decision. We must listen to teachers, who—in being the closest to the classroom—are invaluable in providing a high-quality education to every child. We must bring teachers, students and parents together to scale and sustain solutions that work.”

To read Weingarten’s letter to Secretary Duncan visit here.
With fondness, we say good bye to our colleagues and friends
who are retiring at the end of this school year.

We are honored to have worked with them,
grateful for their contributions to our schools and our kids,
and wish them many years of happiness and good health
in this new chapter of their lives!

Joyce Alfano - IEYMS
Tina Amato - NRHS
Cynthia Barr-Pfeffer - Ward
Ron Blasie* - Grove Avenue
Richard Boddie - City Hall
Ada Boddie-DeJesus - Barnard
Josephine Boscarino - NRHS
Leonette Taylor Brown - Jefferson
Patricia Confalone - Davis
Mary Ellen Cowan - NRHS
Joan DeSantolo - IEYMS
Ellen Dierking - NRHS
Phil Dollard - NRHS
Beth Eccleston - Webster
Kathy Evans* - Davis
Francine Fersko* - Trinity
Timothy Fuller - NRHS
Marcia Gingold - Ward
Susan Grossman - Webster
Penelope Hulbert - NRHS
Eunice Jimenez - Barnard
Catherine Josset - IEYMS
Helen Levine - Webster
Virginia Lockwood - Columbus
Rosemarie Newman* - ALMS
Joseph Orlando - ALMS
Fred Ostrofsky - NRHS
Paula Poricelli - NRHS
Sal Porretto* - Cliff Street
Joan Porwick - Jefferson
Bonnie Proudian - NRHS
Rosemarie Rossi - Jefferson
Ronald Schoenherr - NRHS
Sheryl Senna - Ward
James Simoes* - NRHS
Judith Sosis - ALMS
Kathleen Vestal - NRHS
Scott Zimmerman - NRHS

* Retired earlier in the school year