Back (Pay) Talk

News of unusual back pay proposal draws mixed reactions

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

A potential back pay compromise that has emerged in new contract talks between the city and teachers union sparked mixed reactions Friday.

On the one hand, some said, the proposal to spread more than $3 billion in retroactive raises over a nine-year contract offers the city an affordable payment option, while creating some budget stability. But on the other hand, critics said, the deal could set a damaging pattern for other unions while still requiring serious givebacks from the teachers.

Meanwhile, the mayor declined to confirm the negotiation details, which were revealed in a New York Times report, while union officials noted that more options were on the table than just those leaked to the press.

“There’s just a whole lot of potential ways to settle this,” said Doug Turetsky, chief of staff for the Independent Budget Office, who noted that both the city and union say they have viable proposals. “Sometimes realism is in the eye of the beholder.”

The Times report, which offered the first glimpse into intense, ongoing city-union negotiations, said the long contract would include $3.4 billion in retroactive raises to match ones that other unions received several years ago. The deal could also include raises for more recent years. It would extend from 2009, when the teachers’ last contract expired, until 2018, after Mayor Bill de Blasio faces re-election.

Such a deal could make the sizable back pay affordable to the city, which says it does not have anywhere near that amount available in its current budget, said Charles Brecher, research director of the Citizens Budget Commission, a business-backed watchdog group.

If the deal gives teachers the 4 percent raises that they missed in earlier bargaining rounds, they may be more willing to accept smaller raises for the latest rounds — setting a precedent for “reasonable settlements” with the other municipal unions, Brecher added.

“I think if you’re getting an amount of cash like that it makes it easier to be content with a more modest package going forward,” he said.

But that very possibility might make the union wary: The other 151 municipal unions that lack contracts would not be pleased if the United Federation of Teachers set a pattern of modest pay increases.

“We should not undercut other unions by getting our retroactive money and then skimping everyone else for the subsequent years,” said Peter Lamphere, a high school teacher and member of the UFT’s MORE caucus, which has called for a more inclusive and transparent bargaining process.

What’s more, even if the raises were spread out over several years, the union would still likely have to stomach serious cost-savings, most likely relating to health insurance, but also possibly in other areas, such as its pool of paid teachers without full-time jobs.

De Blasio said as much in brief comments to reporters Friday.

“We can’t get where we need to go without cost savings,” he said. “And I think folks in the labor community understand that.”

That is not necessarily the case. Some in the union have suggested that the city has hidden funds in its budget that could be used for worker raises.

“I definitely do not agree with the position that [the raises] will require concessions from the union,” Lamphere said. “I think the money is there.”

The UFT, like de Blasio, declined to comment on the details of the news report Friday.

But one union official noted that such a lengthy contract would be highly unusual, and risky, if economic conditions worsened or problems arose with other provisions of the deal during the long life of the contract. The official added that UFT President Michael Mulgrew has “talked about a whole variety of lengths of contracts” with city negotiators.

Of course, while back pay is a major issue in city-teacher negotiations, it is hardly the only one. Changes to the new teacher-evaluation system will almost certainly be up for discussion, as well as the various non-instructional tasks now required of teachers.

MORE has called for smaller class sizes, additional in-school supports for students, and teacher evaluations that do not incorporate standardized-test scores, among other demands. It says the union should do more to rally its members around those causes while bargaining is still underway.

“There’s a window right now where there are a lot of things in play,” Lamphere said. “And the more pressure we bring to bear on the city the better.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.