Mulgrew praises de Blasio, pushes for policy changes

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Michael Mulgrew. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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After criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio last week, Michael Mulgrew was full of praise for the new administration on Monday morning. 

In a radio interview on WNYC, Mulgrew, the United Federation of Teachers' president, applauded de Blasio's willingness to work with the union, while urging City Hall and the Department of Education to take action on retroactive pay, cut down on excessive paperwork for teachers, and overhaul the absent teacher reserve program. 

"It's a much more open relationship," Mulgrew said of the difference between de Blasio and former mayor Michael Bloomberg. "First, at the Department of Education, the fact that when I have conversations with that agency I'm actually having it with educators, when before I would only be having it with lawyers or statistical-analysis people."

"We have a mayor who's here to work with us," he added.

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Last week, Mulgrew criticized the administration for not closing schools, saying it was a "mistake" to keep schools open in the midst of Thursday's snowstorm.

But on Monday he heaped praise on de Blasio, with whom he had a rocky relationship during the mayoral primary, and new schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, who Mulgrew said is "absolutely a friend of ours."

After complimenting de Blasio and Fariña, Mulgrew called on the administration to consider retroactive raises, and implement changes on a few key  U.F.T. policy issues. 

While repeating that he and de Blasio will not negotiate the U.F.T. contract "in the media," he stressed that the controversial issue of retroactive pay for teachers, is "a very large issue for us." 

"We have a long history of working with city administrations when they want to work with us, we hope, we believe that this administration wants to work with us, and we think we can figure this out at the negotiating table," Mulgrew said. 

Mulgrew also criticized the Bloomberg administration for creating unnecessary paperwork for teachers through what he called a burdensome "obsession" with accountability. Fariña has pledged changes to that effect, although she has yet to introduced change to the current paperwork system, and Mulgrew didn't specify what changes he'd like to see. 

Asked about the absent teacher reserves, which consists of hundreds of teachers who are employed by the D.O.E. but do not have full-time or consistent teaching assignments, Mulgrew said, "right now the D.O.E. has the ability to place every one of those teachers inside a school building."

"It is a complete waste of such great talent that these people are not being used in schools right now," he said. "I'm hoping the new administration understands this and starts to move in a better direction. I'm hoping this gets completely changed."