By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Joined by public advocate and mayoral hopeful Mark Green, Ferrer and Hevesi have spelled out their determination to improve pay in exchange for longer school days and years, reduced class size, a drastic overhaul in the procedures for getting rid of bad teachers, and greater teacher development and mentoring programs. But with United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten approvingly attending Hevesi's Wagner School speech, Hevesi dodged issues that might have offended a powerful union likely to endorse him.
For example, he noted that "our schools typically are open 45 minutes less than surrounding systems," adding up to four hours less of instruction a week, without pointing out that the union contract negotiated while he was comptroller gave teachers an additional 45-minute free period. Hevesi also made a powerful case for raising salaries of teachers early in their careers, but said nothing about the recent union contracts that have backloaded gains, preferring increases for the most senior teachers. He told the Voice he had no position on the additional 45-minute period and didn't know if prior contracts disproportionately benefitted senior teachers. A union spokesman concedes they did, but says Weingarten now favors concentrating increases for teachers at the five- or six-year level, just as Hevesi recommended.
Similarly, while Green praised charter schools in the education speech he gave almost a year agoas well as urged incentive pay for teachers in tough schools and ones that show improvementHevesi was silent on all three issues. The union has been a skeptic about charter schools and unenthusiastic about any form of merit pay, even for schoolwide improvement.
It requires only short-term memory to figure out that the interests of kids and the UFT aren't always the samethe union was nominally neutral in both Giuliani elections and bashed his pro-education opponents David Dinkins and Ruth Messinger. Swayed in 1997 by side deals like free periods and retirement bonuses, the union joined in barring Messinger from a public event to which she'd been invited.
Hevesi insists that Weingarten did not see his speech before he delivered it, though he acknowledges they had conversations about its contents. While no mayor can expect to make schools better without working with the union, neither will any real progress occur if the mayor is their instrumenta fact that Hevesi needs to demonstrate he understands.