By WNYC Newsroom
Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to boot bad teachers from city schools by creating teams at struggling schools that would rate teachers and eliminate up to half of their staff.
Delivering the annual State of the City address on Thursday, Bloomberg’s selection of the Bronx's Morris High School as a backdrop for the remarks drew into focus the mayor’s role in public education, a theme he drove home in his speech.
"With an evaluation system now required by law, rewarding great teaching is an idea whose time has come," Bloomberg said. "We hope the UFT (teachers' union) will join us in this effort, because it’s the right thing to do for our schools and our teachers."
The mayor also called for giving $20,000 raises to teachers who are rated highly effective two years in a row.
But teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said studies show that bonuses don't work.
"Why the mayor would think it's a good idea to implement it in the largest school system in the country when it has already proven to be a bad thing, I have no idea what he's thinking, He said.
The mayor outlined several new initiatives:
- Better Teachers: As an incentive to attract great new teachers, Bloomberg is proposing to help pay off $25,000 in college loans for anyone who finishes college in the top tier of their class and commits to being a city teacher. He does not define “top tier.”
- Merit Pay: The mayor also wants to offer a $20,000 salary hike to any teacher rated highly effective for two years in a row. Both of these proposals are subject to negotiation with the teachers union.
- A Way Around Evaluations: The state has help up $58 million in federal grants for 33 struggling schools because they didn’t negotiate a new evaluation system using student test scores by year’s end. Bloomberg claims the city can keep the grants if it forms school-based communities to evaluate teachers on merit, and replace up to 50 percent of the faculty.
- Create New Schools: This comes as no surprise, but the mayor said a new charter school operator, Rocketship, is coming to the city. The San Jose, Calif.-based company has stirred up controversy over expansions plans on the West Coast. The mayor also said that with support from CUNY, he will open three more schools grades 9 – 14 for students to get an Associate’s Degree including a software-based theme school in Union Square. He said he plans to open at least a dozen new career and technical education schools and programs aligned with trends in the global economy.
Read Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott's letter to the state education commissioner proposing how to get around having teacher evaluations in place.
Bloomberg gave Police Commissioner Ray Kelly a huge pat on the back in his prepared remarks for doing “an outstanding job making sure that New York’s Finest is also the most upstanding.”
They are bold words for a police department that has seen a tough year.
In 2011, 16 officers were indicted for ticket-fixing, and seven narcotics investigators were convicted of planting drugs to push their arrest numbers up.
Eight current and former police officers were charged by federal prosecutors with smuggling guns and other contraband into the state. Three officers were convicted of robbing a perfume warehouse. Two officers went to trial for allegedly raping an intoxicated woman in the East Village after being called to help her get safely back into her apartment. They were acquitted of rape but found guilty of official misconduct.
In his speech, the mayor said the city has the “very highest standards for those we entrust to enforce the law.” But law enforcement experts say the city doesn’t have enough independent police watchdog organizations with enough muscle to really keep the police accountable.
Bloomberg said he will increase attorney staffing for the Commission to Combat Police Corruption, a small city agency that monitors the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
But critics say the commission is impotent to oversee police corruption because it has no subpoena power and therefore cannot compel the department to hand over information about the conduct of its officers.
Richard Aborn heads the Citizens Crime Commission, which is an independent criminal justice policy organization. He said effective oversight of police corruption is only possible through a completely independent organization.
“Independence means there's subpoena power and there is funding that is not tied to the Mayor's budget," he said. "In other words, the funding is tied to an independent stream."
The Civilian Complaint Review Board is an independent organization that investigates instances of police misconduct between officers and citizens, but the board does not oversee cases of police corruption.
With a poverty rate of just over 20 percent in the city, Bloomberg touted the launch of an initiative aimed at improving the lives of young black and latino men and expressed support for raising the state’s minimum wage.
Advocates for the poor who often criticize the Mayor were praising his remarks.
The mayor also spoke of creating business incubators specifically for helping low income entrepreneurs and pledged new services to help 9,000 unemployed veterans find jobs and housing.
Bloomberg steered clear of the debate over whether to continue fingerprinting food stamp recipients – an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo raised during his State of the State speech last week when he said he wanted to halt the practice.
Business and Economy
The two biggest planks of Bloomberg's economic plan are getting Albany lawmakers to raise the statewide minimum wage and revising the search for a tenant for the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx.
The last time the city sought a tenant for the Armory, the mayor and the City Council deadlocked over the issue of wages for workers there.
But the mayor's support for a higher minimum wage may smooth the way for the Armory project, according to Greg David, director of the business reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
"This is a way for the mayor to address the complaints that the lowest paid new yorkers simply don't have enough money to live and yet possibly take some steam away from the movement to pass a living wage bill," he said.
Jonathan Bowels from the Center for an Urban Future said the minimum wage pitch was "perhaps the most surprising" element of the addrses.
"I think the mayor would rather see a minimum wage cutting across the entire city rather than to have this specific living wage package that some have endorsed."
Bloomberg also cited regulatory incentives to attract new investment around Grand Central, affordable studio space for artists on Governors Island, construction on Eastchester's Mall at Bay Plaza and the development of Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx as mechanisms for future job growth.
Bloomberg also isn’t backing off his plan to expand the number of bike lines in New York.
In prepared remarks, Bloomberg said he knows the debate over bike lanes “has sometimes been hot and heavy” but more New Yorkers are biking than ever before. He said the more bike lanes we put in, the fewer deaths and serious injuries we have on our streets.”
The mayor touted his plan to install the largest bike share in North America next summer, and promised a new effort to enforce the law for delivery riders. The NYPD has come under fire of late for what critics call lax enforcement of traffic rules.
The mayor promised more traffic agents at “safety hot spots,” and said he’d double the number of slow-speed 20 mph zones around schools.
He also restated the administration’s plan to bring so-called “select bus service” – rapid buses, on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn.
The mayor's opening video gave a nod to several of his transportation initiatives - including extending the ability to hail cabs to the outer boroughs. In the video, the mayor drives by his transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, riding in a bike land and shouts to her and a fellow rider, "Stay in the bike lane!" (She is, but her co-rider isn't). Bloomberg also passes over the Ed Koch Bridge where former Mayor Ed Koch is standing asking drivers, "Welcome to my bridge!"
The address was silent on the subject of public health, one of the mayor's signature interests. In previous years, he's used the occasion to recap or preview initiatives related to banning smoking from public places, increasing healthy food for all New Yorkers or tackling chronic and infectious illness, such as heart disease and HIV-AIDS.
The only references at all Bloomberg made to health were a call for hospitals, among others, to help young people find careers, and a line about making "New York City safer and healthier than ever" with "the lowest fire and traffic fatalities in history, near record lows in crime and life expectancy rates that are far surpassing the nation."
Andrea Bernstein, Ailsa Chang, Beth Fertig, Ilya Marritz, Fred Mogul, Andrew Parsons and Cindy Rodriguez contributed reporting.