When we last checked in on Bill De Blasio, the New York City mayor was reeling from the fallout from the string of investigations into possible violations of campaign finance law during his successful campaign for mayor as well as on his unsuccessful effort two years ago to help New York State Senate Democrats regain control of the upper house (and essentially give De Blasio control over Empire State politics).
Since then, Hillary Clinton’s former U.S. Senate campaign manager has suffered more setbacks. This includes revelations by the Empire Center that he handed out $2 million in raises to his political appointees, as well as losing out on an opportunity to speak at the Democratic National Convention during prime time, the latter a reprisal from former boss Clinton and her presidential campaign for failing to endorse her run until he had no choice but to do so.
Meanwhile his likely campaign for re-election, already weakened by low poll numbers as well as the unwillingness of the AFT’s United Federation of Teachers to back him, took another hit when Harlem pastor Johnnie Green announced he would challenge the mayor in the Democratic mayoral primary next year. While Green isn’t likely to garner a lot of votes, the move presages the entry of more-formidable candidates such as City Comptroller Scott Stringer (who will likely gain UFT’s backing if he decides to run) and Bronx Borought President Ruben Diaz Jr. (whose support for expanding charter schools would likely attract reformers in the city).
But for Big Apple taxpayers, none of De Blasio’s political problems mean as much for them as the long-term financial woes they and their children face as a result of the long-term mismanagement of the city’s two defined-benefit pensions for teachers and other district employees. As a Dropout Nation analysis of the latest financial statements reveals, the pension shortfalls for the Teachers Retirement System and the Board of Education Retirement System have worsened under the mayor’s tenure.
Let’s start with TRS, the larger of the two pensions. It officially reports a shortfall of $27.5 billion as of 2013-2014, the latest year available. This is a 2.5 percent increase over the officially-reported shortfall in the previous year. But as readers know by now, those reported numbers don’t reflect reality. For one, this doesn’t include $4.2 billion in unrealized losses kept off the balance sheet as part of “smoothing” efforts by the city to avoid dealing with the shocks that come with financial market volatility. Add that number onto the total, and the shortfall would amount to $31.7 billion, or 15.3 percent higher than officially reported. As Dropout Nation noted last year, such accounting tricks can help pensions appear more-solvent than they really are, making it difficult for policymakers to make smart fiscal decisions.
But the smoothing isn’t the biggest problem. What is? That TRS assumes an investment rate of return of seven percent. Not only is this rate of return higher than the six percent median rate Wilshire Associates expects over the next decade, it is even higher than the 2.8 percent rate of return(net of fees) the pension’s investments generated in 20114-2015. [TRS’ rate of return for this year is just 2.7 percent, according to the New York City Comptroller.]
Because of the inflated rate of return, TRS (and ultimately, the city) understates what is likely the true level of insolvency that taxpayers will ultimately have to bear, and thus, results in lower than necessary contributions being paid by the city and teachers. Given that the pension annuities paid to retirees are essentially obligations like bonds, TRS’ assumed rate of return should be much lower, aligned with yields being gained in the bond market.
To figure out TRS’ true insolvency, Dropout Nation uses a version of a technique developed by Moody’s Investors Service, which assumes a more-realistic 5.5 percent rate of a return on investments. [Moody’s bases its rate of return on the performance of a bond index, which can range between four and six percent.] Based on the formula, using just TRS’ officially-reported number, the pension is underfunded to the tune of $32.9 billion. This is 20 percent more than it officially reports. If the shortfall had to be amortized (or paid off) over the next 17 years, Big Apple taxpayers and teachers would have to contribute an additional $1.9 billion annually, or 60 percent more than the $3.2 billion contributed in 2013-2014.
Yet this number doesn’t include the unrealized losses. Account for those and Dropout Nation estimates that TRS’ insolvency is $38 billion, 20 percent more than the unfunded liability adjusted for unrealized losses. Based on a 17-year amortization schedule, taxpayers and teachers would have to pay an additional $2.2 billion a year, or 69 percent more than contributed to the pension in 2013-2014.
Then there is Board of Education, which officially reports a shortfall of $1.8 billion, a 3.8 percent increase over the previous year. Just like TRS, Board of Education is using smoke and mirrors because it also assumes an investment rate of return of seven percent. The pension’s rate of return in 2014-2015 was just 3.4 percent. [The rate of return for this year is just 3.1 percent, according to the City Comptroller.] The result? Board of Education’s shortfall appears to be lower than it really is.
Based on the Moody’s formula, Dropout Nation concludes that Board of Education is actually underfunded to the tune of$2.2 billion. That’s 20 percent higher than officially reported. Based on a 17-year repayment schedule, taxpayers and district employees would have to contribute an additional $127 million a year, 59 percent more than the $214 million contributed in 2013-2014.
Altogether, based on the best-case scenario, New York City taxpayers face a virtual insolvency of $35.1 billion for the two education pensions. That’s $35,885 for every child within the Big Apple’s traditional district and public charter schools. Use the worst case scenario (which includes the unrealized losses), and taxpayers must address an insolvency of $40.2 billion. That’s $41,099 in pension debt for every child in school today.
Given that the Big Apple’s other defined-benefit pensions for city workers are also virtually busted, it is harder than ever to address the insolvency of the two education pensions. Contributions to TRS and Board of Education account for 38 percent of the $8.1 billion in contributions taxpayers put into all of the city’s pensions in 2013-2014, the latest year available, according to the Big Apple’s annual financial report. The city’s plan to increase contributions to all pensions by $600 million a year from 2016-2017 to 2019-2020 will not cut it
By the way: None of this includes the $28.9 billion in unfunded healthcare liabilities for retiree healthcare expenses; these account for 42.6 percent of the $68 billion in unfunded health liabilities on the city’s balance sheet. All of these obligations must eventually be met.
Put it simply, Big Apple taxpayers and children (who will one day become adults) face a fiscal disaster of massive proportions. One that won’t be easy to overcome. This isn’t all De Blasio’s fault. As Dropout Nation noted two years ago, his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg and his contemporaries in city government leadership continually provided generous annuity benefits and healthcare benefits (along with salary increases) in part to get UFT to go along with his systemic reform efforts. In the process, Bloomberg failed to require teachers to pay more toward their retirements, hoping in vain that stock market gains would cover those benefits and reduce liabilities. None of this worked out.
Yet De Blasio has learned nothing from Bloomberg’s failings on this front. Between 2011-2012 and 2013-2014, the contributions made by teachers to their retirements declined from six cents to 4.5 cents for every dollar put in. The collective bargaining agreements struck De Blasio struck with UFT and other unions representing district employees two years ago required no additional contributions to pensions and healthcare expenses (including the $1,700 a year the city pays in prescription drug coverage and other so-called welfare benefits for every retired teacher). The low member contributions, along with the salary increases a decision two years ago to allow 777 teachers to retire early, and other early retirement plans currently in place, are adding to the virtual insolvencies of TRS and Board of Education. Like Bloomberg, De Blasio is betting on investment market gains, even though history has proven this to be unreliable.
De Blasio should have pushed to increase retirement contributions by UFT-represented teachers, who make up the vast majority of current and future annuitants. Don’t think it is possible? Look at the city’s charter schools, whose expansion the mayor has actively opposed. The average charter school teacher in New York contributes 17 cents out of every dollar to their pension, four times the contributions by peers working in the traditional district. Given the low contributions of their traditional district colleagues, can easily argue that charter school teachers (who are also often Big Apple taxpayers) are bearing an unfair share of TRS’ burden.
The consequences of De Blasio’s and Bloomberg’s fiscal recklessness can be seen on the city’s ledger. Teacher benefit costs as a percentage of district spending increased by 53 percent (from 17 cents of every dollar spent to 26 cents) between 2004-2005 to 2013-2014, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. If not for the corresponding 63 percent increase in revenue during that period, De Blasio would face the same dire choices confronting Chicago counterpart Rahm Emanuel. The city’s Independent Budget Office expects overall city spending to increase at a slower annual rate (3.5 percent from 2016-2017 to 2019-2010). But those assumptions depend on an average 1,769 Baby Boomer teachers retiring every year, as they have between 2004-2005 and 2013-2014, as well as low initial annuity payouts. Both assumptions are probably optimistic.
If that doesn’t happen, De Blasio will be in for an even tougher time. While the city still managed to wrangle an increase in state aid because of other districts, the mayor can’t expect Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Republicans in control of the state senate to help him with any pension bailout. Nor can De Blasio count on UFT; having gotten most of what it wanted out of De Blasio (who it didn’t back), the union seems to already be moving on to a more-pliant candidate for mayor.
No matter what happens to De Blasio, the city’s taxpayers and children are stuck with the financial consequences of what could be a very short tenure.
Aleppo, once, but perhaps not still, the largest city in Syria, is divided into one section occupied by President Assad’s government of Syria and another besieged section. Recently, Russian airplanes have been bombing the latter, causing deaths and immense suffering to children as well as adults. The story runs on the news, worldwide, every day. The United Nations and other entities are in nearly continuous session to consider what can be done.
Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, is divided as starkly into two sections: one White, one non-White. According to one of a recent series of articles in The New York Times, schools in metropolitan Milwaukee “are as segregated now as they were in 1965. Nearly three in four black students attend schools where at least 90 percent of the students are not white . . . Only 15.7 percent of Milwaukee Public School students tested proficient in reading in 2013-14, and 20.3 percent in math . . . Nearly one out of every eight black men in Milwaukee County has served time behind bars . . . The black unemployment rate in Milwaukee County is 20 percent, nearly three times greater than for white people.”
That sounds familiar. Nearly three years ago, in a Dropout Nation essay, I compared Milwaukee to Mississippi. The bad news is that Mississippi came out better. Back then, I pointed out such data as:
- More than 40 percent of Black families with children in Milwaukee had incomes below the poverty line.
- The median household income of Black families in Milwaukee was $26,600. The poverty line for a family of four in Wisconsin was $23,550.
- Seventy percent of male Black students in Milwaukee scored at the Below Basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 8 Reading examination. For most purposes that meant they couldn’t read.
- Of the 3,100 male Black students in grade 9 in the 2007-08 school year in Milwaukee, 1,300 made it to grade 12 by 2010-11 (42 percent).
- Wisconsin’s incarceration rate for Black people was 4,416 per 100,000, ten times the rate at which it imprisoned White people.
Some things have improved. The percentage of male Black eighth-graders in Milwaukee schools who can read at grade level has increased from three percent to four percent. At this rate, most Black male eighth-graders will be able to read at grade level by the year 2100, give or take a few years.
On the other hand, of the 2,506 Black male ninth-graders in the 2010-11 school year, 1,004 made it to senior year of high school by 2013-14 (a drop from 42 percent to 40 percent). At that rate, by the year 2100 no male Black students would be promoted from freshman to senior year.
The percentage of Black families with children with incomes below the poverty line has increased from 40 percent to 47 percent. The median household income for Black families in Milwaukee has declined to $24,967 (just above the current poverty line for a family of four of $24,300).
The Times article emphasized housing segregation, using as its human interest hook an affluent Black family to illustrate the ghettoization of Black families achieved by redlining of loans and White hostility. A nearly simultaneous Boston Globe op-ed focused on the way that now-Governor Scott Walker has manipulated mass transit to isolate Black residents of Milwaukee and increase Black unemployment. There is little or no access to mass transit for Black residents of Milwaukee and, as Lois Quinn and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, have demonstrated for years, driving while Black in the area is a gateway to mass incarceration.
Milwaukee is not Aleppo. County Sheriff Clarke is not President Assad. Governor Walker is not Putin. It is more banal than that. Black men in Milwaukee have faced incarceration and unemployment as normal events for many years now. Black families have been forced to live in restricted and deteriorating neighborhoods as a matter of routine. Black children have been forced into schools that do not educate them—for many years now. This goes on, year after year. It is normal. No conferences are called. Unless there is violence, as there was recently, occasioning the articles in the Times and the Globe, there are no headlines in the mainstream media.
When will something be done? What is to be done? Who is to do it?
Speaking of President Putin, about ten years ago he crushed a rebellion in the region of Chechnya, killing large numbers of people and leveling the city of Grozny, which was then rebuilt, sparing no expense. One can imagine Governor Walker sending uniformed forces into Milwaukee with Ferguson-style armored vehicles. One can imagine the Black neighborhoods of the city burning. However, one cannot imagine Governor Walker and his supporters subsequently rebuilding those neighborhoods, improving the schools, ending redlining and mass incarceration.
They have had plenty of time to do those things. It is quite evident that they like things the way they are.
Seth Gershenson and Michael Hayes have recently published their research about the effects of the “civic unrest” in Ferguson on student achievement in the Ferguson-Florissant schools. They state that they are interested in the general subject as “educational success is likely to play a key role in breaking cycles of poverty and violence in disadvantaged neighborhoods, given the well documented association between educational attainment and earnings,” something about which we can all only agree.
Gershenson and Hayes document “the negative impact on student achievement of the many months of civic unrest that followed former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting (or murder, as we call it here at Dropout Nation) of unarmed teenager Michael Brown:
We find statistically significant . . . declines in students’ math and reading achievement in Ferguson-area elementary schools relative to other schools in the St. Louis [area]. Smaller negative effects are found in majority-black schools elsewhere in the [area] . . . Effects are relatively large, particularly at the lower end of the math-score distribution. For example, a conservative estimate suggests that the fraction of high-needs students scoring “below basic” in math increased by about 10 percentage points following the unrest.”
The researchers have found that that there was collateral damage from the events in Ferguson following Brown’s slaying: The educations of Black children there and in the wider St. Louis area. As Dropout Nation documented two years ago, the districts in St. Louis were already serving up educational malpractice to black and other minority children before the unrest. Things haven’t gotten better since.
The racial make-up of the population of Ferguson has rapidly shifted over the past fifty years, from nearly all White to majority Black. At the time of the killing of Michael Brown, however, the police department and the rest of the so-called criminal justice system remained not only predominately White, but functioned, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (although not in so many words), as a parasitical instrument for the oppression of Black residents of the area, financed by funds extracted from them by means of traffic stops, court fees and such.
This criminalization of the Black population of Ferguson is not unusual in Missouri. All through the state Black residents are stopped by the police, searched, arrested, fined and imprisoned in circumstances in which White residents would not receive the same attention from the police and the rest of the criminal justice system.
The result is that although Blacks make up 12 percent of the population of Missouri, they account for 39 percent of those in the state’s prison and jails. The incarceration rate for Black residents of the state is 2,337 per 100,000, more than four times the incarceration rate of 495 per 100,000 for whites. Further, more than twice the number of those currently in jails and prisons in Missouri are on probation or parole, bring us to, say, six percent of the total Black population or, at a back of the envelope calculation, 15 percent of the male Black population between the ages of 18 and 65.
Every sixth or seventh adult Black man in Missouri is in one way or another under the control of the state’s criminal justice system and many more have been at one time or another. This limits their life prospects and those of their families, reducing their income possibilities below those consequent upon the already significant penalty for working while Black, which in turn channels them into inferior, segregated housing and their children into inferior, segregated schools. And around and around we go, generation after generation.
The median household income in Ferguson is $41,000; one-third of the Ferguson households live on less than $25,000 a year. The Ferguson-Florissant School District is ranked 301st in the state. It is 66 percent African-American. $11,300 is allocated for each student in the district, slightly below the national average. Seventy-one percent of the district’s students are eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch. Just 40 percent are considered by the state to be proficient in reading, and yet 78 percent graduate. However, only 23 percent of adults in Ferguson have college degrees. Based on other data Dropout Nation presented two years ago, it is clear that many (if not most) of Ferguson-Florissant’s graduates are being given diplomas despite being unprepared for college or career success.
It could be worse. It could be nearby East St. Louis.
The St. Louis metropolitan area is divided into two-dozen school districts in Missouri, with East St. Louis across the river in Illinois. East St. Louis is one of the most segregated areas of the country; 96 percent of the residents are African-American. It is also profoundly poor. While the median household income in the country is $53,000, in East St. Louis that figure is $20,000 and 60 percent of those households live on less than $25,000 a year. 99 percent of the district’s school children receive Free or Reduced Price Lunch. Only 20 percent are proficient in reading (and yet) the graduation rate is 65 percent, from which we can conclude that two out of three graduates of the East St. Louis schools cannot read well. It is, then, not surprising that just eight percent of East St. Louis adults are college-educated, compared to a national average of 29 percent.
East St. Louis is the baseline for living conditions and educational opportunities, for African Americans, in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
On the other hand, things could be better for Black families in the region if they could live in Maryland Heights.
Maryland Heights is a suburb on the other side of the city from East St. Louis. The median household income there is about $59,000, higher than the national average, and just 17 percent of households have incomes under $25,000, a proportion considerably under that national average. 40 percent of adults in Maryland Heights have college educations. The local school district (Parkway C-II) is 15 percent African-American. Just 20 percent of its students are eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch. $14,400 is spent on each student in the Parkway C-II district, almost a third more than in Ferguson. The Parkway C-II district brings 72 percent of its students to proficiency in reading on the state tests and graduates 93 percent of them.
East St. Louis and Maryland Heights are not very distant, one from the other, and quite similar except that in one the residents are almost all descendants of enslaved Africans, in the other the vast majority are not; in one the average household income is below the poverty line, in the other it is three times as much; in one the adults have little education, in the other the adults are highly educated; in one the schools do not in any meaningful sense function, in the other they produce high school students prepared, as the saying goes, for college and careers. Where once the Underground Railroad took Black people to freedom, schools like those in East St. Louis are a funnel leading to incarceration.
That is the regional context for Black families in Ferguson. Historians and sociologists have told us since the time of the French Revolution that the disappointment of rising expectations leads to a crisis. Although Black families in Ferguson were better off than those in East St. Louis, they had encountered the barrier of a criminal justice system determined to contain them and other institutions, such as the schools, that were failing them and their children. What followed was predictable in nature, simply not predictable in regard to place or time. And then it happened in Ferguson. And then it happened in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and earlier this week, in Milwaukee, the subject of so many reports on these pages.
Riots and police in armored vehicles frighten children, boys and girls who must already deal with the daily, oppressive, and often racially bigoted presence of law enforcement on streets and in schools. They become reluctant to leave their homes to go to school and their parents are reluctant for them to do so. Conditions in the schools themselves, hardly exemplary at the best of times, worsen. The resources needed to cope with this educational emergency, like those needed to cope with the more long-term lack of educational opportunities at the standard, of, say, Maryland Heights, fail to be provided.
We have grown used to this. This should never be the case. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”
When it comes to the willingness to sell out the futures of children for support from affiliates of the Big Two teachers’ unions, no public official has done so wholeheartedly than New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio. Since succeeding the reform-minded Michael Bloomberg three years ago as Big Apple Mayor, the onetime campaign manager for now-Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate campaign has essentially gutted much of his predecessor’s overhaul of the nation’s largest traditional school district on behalf of United Federation of Teachers and its boss, Michael Mulgrew.
But these days, with an array of corruption allegations hurting his chances of winning a second term, De Blasio is learning the hard way that loyalty to AFT and NEA affiliates can often be a one-way street. This, in turn, should serve as a lesson to politicians who spend more time catering to the demands of traditionalists than doing right by children and communities.
As Politico reported yesterday, UFT has all but ran away from public support for De Blasio’s political agenda. Last month, Mulgrew took to the Daily News to blast De Blasio’s sensible move to ban use of out-of-school suspensions against kindergartners and children in the earliest grades, complaining that the move takes away the ability of teachers to control their classrooms. At the same time, Mulgrew has abandoned De Blasio on his efforts to reauthorize mayoral control over the New York City Department of Education, which has been in jeopardy thanks to his feuds with Empire State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republicans in control of the state senate. [Back in June, De Blasio won a second one-year reauthorization of mayoral control.]
UFT has also shown its unwillingness to back De Blasio in one very important way: Money. So far this election cycle, the union hasn’t given a penny to the mayor’s re-election campaign, according to data from the city’s Campaign Finance Board. [It only gave $4,950 directly to De Blasio during his first run for mayor in 2013, and spent nothing on his behalf through its super-PAC, United for the Future.] In contrast, UFT has already donated $4,950 to City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who may challenge De Blasio’s re-election bid next year.
Certainly Mulgrew has one big reason for leaving De Blasio hanging. After all, the mayor is reeling from revelations that federal, state, and local officials have launched five separate investigations, primarily on possible violations of campaign finance law during his successful campaign for mayor as well as on his unsuccessful effort two years ago to help New York State Senate Democrats regain control of the upper house (and essentially give De Blasio control over Empire State politics).
UFT’s parent union, AFT, faces scrutiny for its $350,000 donation to a De Blasio-controlled group at the center of some of the alleged violations, Campaign for One New York, which has been used by the mayor to ring up support for efforts such as increasing Empire State funding for expanding early childhood education programs (from which UFT gained new members and new revenue). The donation came just months before De Blasio signed a new contract with UFT that gives the union nearly everything it wants while increasing the long-term pension and healthcare liabilities that will be born by taxpayers decades into the future. A former UFT staffer, Jason Goldman, is also allegedly caught up in one of probes; UFT told the Daily News that it would cooperate fully with that investigation.
[By the way: UFT’s other activities during the Big Apple’s municipal elections in 2013 have already been scrutinized. One of its political consultants, Advance Group (which did $60,383 in direct work for the union that year), was fined $25,800 last year by both the city’s Campaign Finance Board and the state attorney general for concealing its work for both UFT’s super-PAC and the candidates the union supported.]
Given the stench of scandal surrounding De Blasio’s administration, as well as the mayor’s low approval ratings just a year before the next municipal election, it only makes sense that UFT distance itself from him.
But there are other reasons why UFT is abandoning its rather profitable alliance with the mayor.
For one, there’s the possible challenge Stringer, a longtime beneficiary of the union’s political and financial largesse (including $5,050 in direct contributions to his run for comptroller three years ago, along with $192,333 in independent expenditures through its super-PAC), may pose to De Blasio. The possibility of a more-pliable occupant of Gracie Mansion, someone who owes his entire political career to the union, is definitely something Mulgrew would favor. After all, Stringer has proven more than once that he will take on Eva Moskowitz, the controversial boss of the notorious Success Academy collection of charters who is one of the leading players in advancing systemic reform in New York City. That De Blasio was never the guy UFT wanted in City Hall in the first place makes it easier for the union to leave him behind.
Another reason lies with UFT’s long-term goal of ending mayoral control of New York City schools that began 13 years ago under Bloomberg’s tenure. Certainly UFT has benefited greatly from De Blasio’s oversight of the district. But De Blasio (who wants to keep mayoral control) could lose his job to a more reform-minded mayoral candidate next year, putting the union back on the defensive. Besides, ending mayoral control means putting the district back in the hands of a school board, one that UFT can more-easily influence.
Then there’s Mulgrew’s need to keep control of UFT in the hands of the Unity coalition, which has long dominated the AFT local (and is a key player in the larger Progressive faction that controls the national union). Even with all of Mulgrew’s efforts to disenfranchise members who are currently working in classrooms (and stamp out dissidents who disagree with his agenda), his declining support within UFT (including winning re-election with just 76 percent of the vote, a second consecutive decline) makes him mindful that he can’t ignore their concerns.
One of those issues: De Blasio’s sensible effort to reduce overuse of harsh school discipline that puts far too many kids (including young black men) on the path to poverty and prison. Even as the national AFT uses school discipline reform as a tool in co-opting criminal justice reform and Black Lives Matter activists, UFT’s rank-and-file members have little interest in embracing any meaningful change in how they deal with children in their classrooms.
But unlike the rancor from some in the rank-and-file two years ago over UFT’s tag-team with Rev. Al Sharpton on opposing police brutality, Mulgrew can’t simply dismiss their complaints. This is because the union’s job is to defend the autonomy of classroom teachers. The idea that teachers are the only ones who should determine what happens in schools, even at the expense of the futures of children, is a tenet of traditionalist thinking no AFT boss can challenge.
Put simply, UFT’s abandonment of De Blasio shouldn’t be shocking to anyone. Especially to the mayor himself. After all, the union only back De Blasio’s mayoral run at the last minute, only after he defeated their favored candidate, former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, for the Democratic mayoral nomination.
No reformer could have ever expected De Blasio, a longtime opponent of systemic reform, to build upon Bloomberg’s efforts. But given UFT’s weak bargaining position at the time, De Blasio could have chosen his own path on education policy. Yet De Blasio sold his administration out to UFT in exchange for a few hundred thousand pieces of fiat money for his political machine.
As part of that deal, he proceeded to give UFT nearly everything it wanted. This included the nine-year contract that increased salaries by 18 percent; actively opposing Cuomo’s successful effort to expand the number charter schools throughout the city and state; and working with the union on its successful effort to eliminate the use of test score growth data in the state’s teacher evaluation system, rendering it useless in rewarding high-quality teachers and removing laggards.
Despite the tough talk from his chancellor, Carmen Farina, De Blasio increased the number of newly-minted teachers granted tenure (from 53 percent in 2014 to 64 percent in 2016), risking the presence of laggards in the classroom for decades. Through his feuding with Cuomo and State Senate Republicans, De Blasio even put the future of mayoral control in doubt.
Having gotten nearly all it wants out of De Blasio, UFT is letting him twist in the wind. This is bad news for a mayor who needs all the help he can get for re-election. But that’s how it usually works in politics. If he loses office next year, the only thing De Blasio will have as a legacy on education policy is the damage done to the futures of Big Apple children under his watch, from subjecting more kids to laggard teachers, to shorting struggling students out of five days of additional learning time during the school year.
Children aren’t the only ones who have lost as a result of De Blasio’s kowtow to UFT. The collective bargaining agreement struck with the union two years ago didn’t require rank-and-file members to contribute more than the 4.5 cents of every dollar put toward their retirements (as of 2013-2014, the latest year available). The low member contributions, along with the salary increases and the decision two years ago to allow 777 teachers to retire early, add to the virtual insolvency of the Teachers Retirement System.
As a result of De Blasio’s fiscal mismanagement, taxpayers (including the children of today) will bear a burden of at least $38 billion (including unrealized losses of $4.2 billion), according to Dropout Nation‘s analysis of TRS’ finances. [A full analysis of the Big Apple’s education pension woes will run on these pages next week.] Add in the unfunded healthcare costs for retired teachers (which also went unaddressed by De Blasio during his contract negotiations with UFT), and the high costs of the mayor’s star-crossed alliance with the union will loom large in the decades to come.
There’s a high price to be paid for carrying water for AFT locals who profit politically and financially from educational malpractice. Sadly for New York City and its children, Bill De Blasio won’t be the only one paying it.
On the two year anniversary of the murder of Michael Brown by a now-former Ferguson, Mo., police officer that led to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, this rebroadcast of the Dropout Nation Podcast, explains how Black America and reformers should use this strategy as a step toward addressing the education crisis for young black men.
You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the podcast series, and embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.