9:45 am Jan. 13, 2012
After negotiations with the teachers union prompted state officials to yank federal funding from New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the current contract with the union allows him to introduce a new evaluation program that will qualify the city for the money.
In his 11th State of the City Speech, delivered at Morris High School in the Bronx yesterday, Bloomberg said there is "a school turnaround program already authorized by federal and state law and consistent with a provision of the existing union contract" that enables the city to "form school-based committees to evaluate teachers" and, if needed, "replace up to 50 percent of the faculty."
Bloomberg said the turnaround program would be used for 33 public schools already identified as needing help, but which lost out on $58 million in funding because no teacher-evaluation method was in place, as is required to qualify for the aid.
"We plan to move forward with this approach for the 33 schools that should've gotten state grants," Bloomberg said. "We believe that when we take this action, we will have fulfilled the State's requirements and the schools will be eligible for the $58 million in funding."
After Bloomberg's speech, Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement saying he agreed with Bloomberg on the need to hold "teachers accountable for their performance."
The evaluation method was the stick. But the mayor also offered what he presented as a carrot in an earlier part of the speech.
The mayor said teachers who get rated "highly qualified" for two years in a row would get a $20,000 jump in their salary. And "top tier" college graduates could get up to $25,000 of their student loans paid off by the city, the mayor said.
The head of the teachers union was unmoved.
"There definitely was an element of teacher-bashing going on," said the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew, standing at the back of the school's auditorium, where Bloomberg's speech was delivered.
When I asked about the $20,000 incentive pay, Mulgrew said it hasn't worked in other school districts.
"The objection is, everywhere it's been done it's proven to actually harm the education system," he said. "It leads to more test prep."
Bloomberg's would-be Democratic successors seemed to sympathize with the U.F.T. position, and saw in Bloomberg's approach an attempt to drive a wedge into the union's membership.
City Comptroller John Liu said he was open to the idea of incentive pay, but worried about the evaluation method used to determine who qualified for it.
"Incentive pay is good, it's always good," he told me. "It incentivizes people. The hard part is coming up with a system to objectively evaluate performance. And that will be the challenge."
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said Bloomberg wasn't cultivating support from teachers with his approach.
"The mayor has always had a problem working well with others," de Blasio said. "I think he's created a self-fulling prophecy by acting like teachers aren't willing to be responsible."
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer agreed, and faulted the mayor for picking a fight with the union.
"To come out charging and basically create a schism with the teachers is just not an effective tactic," he said. "Labor negotiations should never play out in public."
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has had a good working relationship with Bloomberg, said, "The mayor has to defend how he does and doesn't get things done."