At 12 Noon today, the UFT, New York City and the NYC Department of Education agreed on mechanisms to implement two of the outstanding provisions of the 2005 collective bargaining agreement. The agreements create positive, pro-active programs that address two major issues which face our schools: attracting and retaining quality educators in our schools, and creating collaborative learning environments where teachers have real voice.
First, current New York City educators who have 25 years or more of service will be able to retire at age 55 without a reduction in benefits. Second, a voluntary school wide bonus program will be established on a pilot basis in a number of New York City’s highest need schools. Finally, building on the victory of making ‘per session’ pay pensionable, this agreement makes coverage pay pensionable.
Currently, NYC public school educators on Tiers II, III and IV who retire before age 62 with fewer than 30 years of service can’t retire without a monetary penalty. This now changes. Subject to legislative passage and the governor’s signature, these educators will be able to retire at 55 with their full pension once they have completed 25 years of service, as Tier I educators are now able to do. (Since pensions can not be bargained, this agreement pledges NYC, the DOE and the UFT to jointly support state legislation to accomplish these changes.) Eligible educators will receive a pension equal to at least one-half of their final average salary, which is generally the last three years of service.
Under the legislation agreed to by the parties, current NYC public school educators will have six months to decide whether or not to opt in to the new enhanced pension program, at a cost of a 1.85% of salary. Future hires will be required to pay 1.85% for their improved benefit. For future hires, the pension will be improved to an eligibility at age 55 with 27 years of service. [No union has negotiated a lower member cost for this kind of benefit, which by terms of the contract, was to be cost neutral for New York City. Tier I members pay at least 5% of their salary for the first twenty years of service.]
The NYC Department of Education and the Teachers’ Retirement System have also agreed that money educators earn for teaching the classes of absent colleagues [coverages] will now count as part of their average salaries for the purpose of calculating pensions. Educators who retired as far back as 1993 will have their pensions recalculated to include this coverage pay, and will receive retroactive payments for up to six years [from 2001 forward] on that basis.
Once 55-25 is adopted by the state legislature, these pension improvements will be a huge step forward in the decades-long fight of the UFT to achieve equity among the different pension tiers. This agreement will provide an important tool to address the retention crisis in NYC public education, providing younger educators with an incentive to make teaching a life career.
SCHOOL-WIDE BONUS PLAN
The school wide bonus plan reflects the core belief and principle of the UFT: students achieve when all the educators in a school work together on their behalf. When we foster teamwork and partnership, when educators learn from each other and share their successful educational practices and strategies, the whole school moves forward and students benefit. Unlike individual merit pay plans, which set teacher against teacher in cut-throat competition, school wide bonuses encourage educators to work together and help each other improve instruction for all students.
With the adoption of this school wide bonus plan, we have transformed a negative into a positive, and “shut the door” on individual merit pay programs. New York City is sending a clear message to the members of Congress considering the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind: the way to improve schools does not lie down the road of setting teacher against teacher, but of bringing teachers together in common cause and effort on behalf of their students.
For the first time under the current Department of Education administration, a program is being established that treats our members as educational professionals, recognizing them as full and equal partners of the school principal in the educational enterprise. This is an important advance in the UFT’s quest to achieve full professional status for the men and women who educate our young people.
With this agreement, a pilot program as envisioned in Article 8L of our contract will award bonuses to the entire UFT represented staff in participating schools that meet benchmarks for gains in student achievement. In 2007-08, the plan will be offered to approximately 200 of the highest needs schools, and in 2008-09, the offer will be extended to other high needs schools, with the total number being at least 30% of all schools.
Participation in the plan will be voluntary. Each school’s participation will be decided by an annual vote of 55% of the UFT Chapter and the agreement of the principal.
Schools that meet the benchmarks will receive a pool of money, calculated on the basis of $3000 for every UFT member in the school. A four member team of two administrators and two UFT members elected by their colleagues will decide how to divide the pool among the UFT represented staff in the school. If the distribution plan of the team is not ratified by the UFT chapter, appeals may be made to an Oversight Committee of the NYC DOE Chancellor and the UFT President.
This plan empowers school-based educators, placing in their hands the choice to opt in or out of the bonuses and the decision of how to distribute the bonus money. It also creates a positive incentive for experienced, accomplished educators to work in high needs schools.
Since 1999, principals have received bonuses for gains in student achievement; this plan will extend that opportunity to UFT members in the schools.
This is not the first school wide bonus plan in NYC public schools. In 1998, the UFT entered into the Breakthrough for Learning school wide bonus program in District 19; District 23 was later added to the program. Unlike Breakthrough for Learning, however, this school wide bonus plan is focused on partnership and teacher professionalism.
With these programs, the UFT has addressed two of the major issues from the 2005 contract. We will now continue to tackle class size, school safety, ATRs, and teachers who are in ‘rubber rooms.’ For now, our members will now have additional tools and supports from our collective bargaining agreement to take on the challenges of educating all of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students.