Thursday, July 30, 2009

NY Post Gets Randi

If you wait long enough you just might get to see everything-like the NY Post praising a union leader. And in this morning's paper the shout out is to the UFT's Randi Weingarten: "Heaven knows we've had our differences with Weingarten -- who'll now devote her energies to heading the UFT's parent union, the American Federation of Teachers -- but we wish her well. For she's been an effective champion for her 228,000 members -- while remaining mindful of her obligations to the larger community."

Now, what obligations could the Post be referring to? Here's a hint. It just might have something to do with mayoral control of the schools-an issue that the paper has championed to an extent not seen since, well, the last commercial run by Mike Bloomberg (a couple of minutes ago?): "Her support was critical to passage of the 2002 law that lets City Hall run public schools. And its expected renewal this year would've had no chance had Weingarten seriously opposed it.
To her credit, she didn't. Though her union initially sought changes that would have gutted the law, Weingarten -- in a Post column at a critical moment in the debate -- made it clear that the UFT would accept more modest changes. And thank goodness, too."

The Post does manage a few discouraging words about the union's uber-role in raising the cost of schooling in NYC: "But Randi's top priority has always been her members: Since '98, teacher salaries have soared 58 percent -- and her members enjoy eye-poppingly generous fringe benefits. Accordingly, school spending has more than doubled during her tenure. Yes, the teachers' gains have often come at the expense of kids and taxpayers. But it's also true that Weingarten successfully demanded safer schools -- to everybody's benefit."

Safer schools aren't in the teachers' benefit as well? But you get the paper's drift here. The system may be spending money like there's no tomorrow-and the city's pension crisis can be traced in no small measure to this educational behemoth that Mike and Randi have collaborated on creating-but as long as the UFT played ball on governance, all is forgiven.

And not a single word on how this UFT about face came about. Here's a hint; in a sentence worth repeating: "Though her union initially sought changes that would have gutted the law, Weingarten -- in a Post column at a critical moment in the debate -- made it clear that the UFT would accept more modest changes.""

Let's be very clear. Mayoral control was effected because it was passed in the Assembly in spite of fairly strong opposition from city assembly members. The assembly has been lavishly funded by the UFT-and the union's thumb on the scale of mayoral control would have been its death knell, So, what happened? Put simply, a deal was made between Bloomberg and the union-something that will be revealed, like the proverbial player to be named later, when the teachers' contract is announced.

Anbd it will mean more teachers, better benefits-and, did we forget?-another nail in the city's pension coffin. Around the same time the national school tests will also be released; at which point we will be able to better see the cost/benefit equation of the current school governance regime. The wondrous gains that the Bloomberg/NY Post re-election campaign has been trumpeting may very well be seen-in the context of the exponentially increased spending-as picayune.

But if you really want to see a more honest glimpse of the less than praiseworthy aspects of the UFT's power, that you should go back to yesterday's NY Daily News and read Eva Moskowitz's critique of the union's successful effort to prevent middle class schools from employing teacher's aides: "The United Federation of Teachers has again put its members' interests above those of children by stopping parents from hiring teaching assistants at public schools with large class sizes.The practice takes place at many of our city's best schools. Schools in middle-class neighborhoods get far less funding than schools in poor neighborhoods. For example, upper East Side Public School 290, where my son went, gets $13,374 per child, while Harlem's PS 149 gets $19,834 - a difference of more than $6,000 per child. This disparity, although understandable, results in larger class sizes. Parent fund-raising helps ameliorate the problem. It is truly a win-win situation. The teaching assistants benefit because they are typically aspiring teachers: Working for a year or two at a top school is a great learning opportunity."

Now keeping middle class kids in the system should be seen as a high priority, for so many reasons. But the UFT insists that schools not hire these assistants, but instead hire less educated paras who just happen to be union members. And, so it goes.

What we had over the last six months or more was a mating dance between Randi, Mike Bloomberg and Shelly Silver. The result has been the passage of a mayoral control extension without any of the productive due diligence that we saw from the assembly over an even less crucial issue like congestion pricing.

When the national numbers finally come in, we'll be better able to see what spending about $20,000/pupil has gotten us. Our bet? The UFT and its members, along with a probably re-elected Mike Bloomberg, will have done a lot better than the city's school children.