2005-10-06 / This Week's Attitude

Maybe Now Teachers Can Get Back To Education

This Week
By Neil S. Friedman

Few would deny that teaching in New York’s public schools — or any urban school district — is typically a grueling and, sometimes, frustrating task. Compared to some other professions that require college degrees, teaching may be one of our nation’s most underpaid and under appreciated, which is a dilemma in a country that spends disproportionate amounts for its defense. Those who make teaching a career should be recognized for their labor, patience, and, in many instances, enthusiasm. However, that does not mean they should be rewarded with inflated salaries that could bankrupt a municipality’s economic future.

After a 29-month stalemate, the city reached a tentative settlement with the United Federation of Teachers union on Monday. According to reports, the pact guarantees teachers a 15 percent increase, which is more than arbitrators suggested, over four years, plus extends the school year by two “professional development” days before Labor Day and another on Brooklyn-Queens Day in June. Teachers will also work an additional 10 minutes a day or 50 minutes a week.

While it’s almost a certainty the UFT will recommend its members ratify the new pact, it was a shame New York City’s teachers had been without a new contract since May 31, 2003.

Nevertheless, any fault for not reaching a fair accord attributed to City Hall must be equally blamed on Randi Weingarten, the stubborn, outspoken UFT president.

I’ve said — and written — before that it is outrageous when teachers and the union complain they earn 15 percent less than suburban counterparts. First of all, regardless of one’s motive for deciding on the New York City school system as a career, no one forced them to take the position. They must have been aware of the established salary structure when they applied for the job. Secondly, New York City doesn’t have a tax base equivalent to more affluent suburbs that can support higher wages for public servants. Thirdly, just because test scores have improved of late, it doesn’t balance all the years when students were being inadequately educated, standardized test scores were shameful and graduation rates were sluggish. (Quite a lot of parents should also be held accountable for student shortcomings.) Lastly, they work less than ten months a year. Therefore, when a teacher’s salary is argued, it should be adjusted to what they would earn with the identical rate if they were in classrooms for twelve months. With the median New York City teacher salary at $53,000 — prior to the new deal — that would substantially in-crease it.

Predictably, the union and teachers refuse to accept responsibility for years of failure, yet they now crave suitable credit for improvements that are mainly due to innovative methods implemented by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

The union recently vowed that if a contract weren’t negotiated “soon,” it was going to urge its 80,000 members to strike, which, incidentally, is illegal in New York State. That sounded more like an implied threat than a sound bargaining chip. And, as my editor, Chuck Rogers, pointed out in his Sep-tember 29th column, their vow to endorse Freddy Ferrer, instead of Bloomberg, in the upcoming mayoral election was tantamount to extortion.

Since Bloomberg and Klein began overhauling the city’s public schools — and reducing the bloated education bureaucracy — a few years ago, it finally seems headed in the right direction after years of abysmal failure.

Maybe now that the contract impasse is over, perhaps teachers can focus on what’s most vital — improving education for the city’s 1.1 million students.

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