Teachers Union Calls for Renewed Contract Negotiations

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A day after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said he would circumvent the teachers union to create his own evaluation process, the union is trying to force the city back to the negotiation table.

On Friday, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew announced that he has asked New York State's labor board to declare an impasse in the negotiations between the city and union over a new teacher evaluation system and appoint a mediator. The city and the United Federation of Teachers began their talks more than five months ago, but angrily parted ways in late December, leaving the city without a new evaluation system and imperiling federal grant funding for 33 struggling schools.

In his State of the City address on Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg said he would break through the city and union stalemate by drawing on a measure in the teachers' contract that allows the city to form committees to evaluate teachers based on classroom performance. Mr. Mulgrew dismissed the mayor's plans, saying that his approach would not make the city eligible for the federal money, because it did not constitute an evaluation system.

State Education Commissioner John B. King, who suspended the federal grant program after talks failed, has yet to comment on the mayor's proposal.

Returning to the original concept of negotiating a new evaluation system, Mr. Mulgrew demanded that the city resume talks.

"The city and the Department of Education, apparently unhappy that they couldn’t get everything their way, walked out on the talks last week," he said in a statement. "We are asking the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to find that an impasse exists in these talks, and to appoint a mediator who can bring the city back to the table."

But Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott brushed off the union's efforts, saying in a statement that the labor board does not have jurisdiction over negotiations related to the federal grant program.

"Our goal is clear: let’s get great teachers in every classroom," he said. "Unfortunately, instead of working with us, the UFT would rather engage in useless PR stunts designed to mask the fact that the union cares more about adults than students."

At the center of the failed talks are the issues of how poorly rated teachers receive help to improve their performance and what recourse teachers have to appeal termination decisions after they receive two consecutive low ratings.

City officials have accused the union of making it too difficult to fire poor performing teachers by creating a lengthy appeals process. But Mr. Mulgrew has countered with examples of city principals who have given teachers "unsatisfactory" ratings out of spite or retaliation.