Weingarten Looks to Soothe Tension Over Placard Cuts

Today is the first workday of the new year for city public school teachers, some 52,000 of whom have a little over a month to prepare for a commute without free parking privileges.

RandiW07.jpgAs reported earlier this week, the city and the United Federation of Teachers have reached an agreement that will rescind all but about 11,000 teacher parking placards, putting the number of placards on par with the number of on-street spaces allotted for school parking across the boroughs (an additional 15,000 off-street spaces are also designated for teacher use). Allocation of placards will be left to the discretion of individual school principals and UFT chapter leaders (who are also teachers), and must be completed by October 1.

Perhaps sensing unrest among the membership, UFT President Randi Weingarten, who is in Denver this week, released a missive yesterday ensuring teachers that teacher parking spaces had not been reduced, and that the deal with the city “presents an opportunity for an increase in the number of spots.” This last is apparently a reference to an appeals process briefly outlined in a recent letter to Weingarten from Bloomberg Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler [PDF].

While in her letter to teachers, the full text of which appears after the jump, Weingarten characterizes the agreement as a win, school personnel aren’t happy. Speaking to the Times, one Bronx middle school principal riffed on a previous Weingarten complaint, intimating that the best of New York’s Brightest will gravitate to schools with available auto storage.

“What I think will end up happening is we’ve already got competition
for teachers, and schools with parking lots will become even more
desirable than they were before,” he said.

Here’s the Weingarten letter:

There are a lot of rumors floating around regarding parking placards.
Do not believe everything you hear and read. The Education Department
was the only city agency not to lose parking spots, and that is because
the UFT fought hard for its members from the moment the mayor first
announced his intention to cut spaces. We filed a grievance and took
the case to the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), and we were
the only ones to negotiate a parking agreement. The deal that the union
and the city reached yesterday ensures that all on-street and
off-street parking spots for schools have been preserved and presents
an opportunity for an increase in the number of spots.

Teacher parking has always been a problem in New York City. There has
never been enough. In the past, the Department of Education has sought
to address this problem by increasing the number of permits without
increasing the number of actual spots. This has created problems for
neighborhoods and educators. Although I would rather the city not
change the process right now, the agreement the UFT reached with the
city continues the number of available spots and more closely aligns
the number of placards with the number of spots. This brings the
decision on who gets the placards to the school level where it belongs.

Under the agreement, the number of permits available to a school will
be limited to the number of available spaces currently designated for
parking by DOE personnel. The principal and chapter leader in each
school will decide the distribution of these on-street and off-street
placards, whether through assignment to individual people, pooling of
placards for use each day (which could be on a first-come, first-serve
basis), or some combination of those two methods. There is now an
appeals process when the principal and chapter leader can’t agree as
well as a way for the principal or chapter leader to appeal if they
believe their school needs more parking spots. The city will also issue
at least 1,000 additional parking placards for educators whose work
requires them to travel between different schools.

Enforcement of the new system will begin Oct. 1. New placards will start to be issued at the beginning of the school year.

We recommend that chapter leaders advocate for a transparent and
reasonable system of allocation that is fair to staff. If you have any
questions or concerns about the agreement or your role in the
allocation process, please contact your district rep.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Many years ago (say 1994), as a naiive city planner, I suggested that public employees could be the backbone of a dynamic carpooling program for non-CBD trips. By dynamic I mean that a new carpool would be arranged by a computer matching system for each trip.

    Riders would save not only the marginal cost of the trip but also the fixed cost by living with one fewer car. They would pay a little more than the cost of a transit ride for each trip.

    Most of that would be paid to the drivers, who would add some extra cash making trips they would have made anyway.

    The system had a chicken and egg problem — it could only work if it already had tens of thousands of participants. So I suggested that public employees, who are dispersed througout the city in locations that make transit trips difficult, could be the initial market (along with retired public employees, who could be the backbone of a new system in which not-so-senior citizens give rides to senior citizens in suburban locations). The unions and their members, I suggested, could even be part owners of a business that had a potential to spread.

    And it exchange for this savings in spending on autos, or extra earnings from taking their fellow civil sevants with them, possible ownership of a business, and possibly more income in retirement, what would the NYC public employees be asked to do?

    Give up the reserved placard parking, which would be limited only to those public employees willing to go a little out of their way to take two or three people with them.

    Boy was I naiive.

    Now many are losing the parking anyway. Bwwahhhahhhahhha!

  • Free metro north passes, free metrocards, bike rooms, showers, parking cash out. See if they’ll gravitate to that.

    Ug. Teachers are being sucked off to the rich suburbs, but it’s mostly because thy pay more. That’s a serious issue that must be addressed– I’m sad that they are evoking it here.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Here’s something that I don’t get – teachers aren’t paid a lot, but they can afford to keep cars in the city? How does that work?

  • Ian Turner

    Actually, public school teachers in New York make more than those who work for private schools. And that’s before you consider the generous perks and unrivaled retirement plan. If you include the entire pay package in today’s terms, it’s around $100,000 pretax for a teacher who’s been with the district for 5 years.

    The main reason teachers leave public schools — and not just in New York City — is the poor working conditions, huge bureaucracy, inflexible administration, and an overall focus on expediency over either principles or quality. But unions aren’t really in a position to address any of that, so they just ask for more positions, pay, perks, and retirement instead.

  • Ian Turner

    As an addendum, that generous retirement package vests immediately: A teacher will get retirement income from New York City even after working for a couple of years.

  • Car Free Nation

    And for teachers who work in the far outer boroughs, a car can probably shorten the commute drastically. Teachers often can’t control where they are assigned, and it can take a couple of hours to get from deep in Brooklyn to deep in Queens.

    What doesn’t make sense is providing parking in schools in Manhattan below 96th street or Downtown Brooklyn, which can be reached from anywhere in the region quickly.

    I like Larry’s carpool idea. My Grandfather carpooled to Downtown Brooklyn for years with other teacher’s living on Long Island.

  • Why should only the downtown neighborhoods benefit from reduced traffic? Some of the worst parking issues happen in the Bronx.

  • Larry Littlefield

    If you want to know the facts about teacher compensation, then read this post:

    http://www.r8ny.com/blog/larry_littlefield/what_the_campaign_for_fiscal_equity_accomplished.html

    And download the spreadsheet and print it.

    NYC teachers were once highly undercompensated when the cost of living was taken into account. Today, however, instructional pay and benefits per child in NYC are far higher than the national average, and as high as in the suburbs or Upstate New York. The three are the same. This is a huge change.

    The difference is that in NYC more of that compenstation is in the form of retirement benefits. The recent change in the retirement age from 62 to 55 will make this worse, and result in lower cash pay and higher class sizes.

  • Jason A

    I never understood why teachers insist on living in the burbs but teaching in the city. By doing so, aren’t you admitting to providing an inferior education? Why doesn’t the union press teachers to stand up for their product and send their own children to city schools?

    Losing such a huge class of committed parents (I think) is a net drain on the quality of education in the city. If more teachers had more of an interest in their own schools, that would be more time devoted to parental involvement in city schools – which is one of the biggest factors in seeing a school succeed.

    Are the city schools truly such a Jonathan Kozolian nightmare that to send your children to public schools is to cut their futures out from under their feet? As a product of a big urban school district I have to say, this offends me.

    While my curriculum might not been 100% Harvard approved, the “hidden curriculum” in urban schools is underrated. Once I got to college, I found my classmates who went to urban schools to be much more mature, balanced and enlightened (i.e. “less racist”). I’m very thankful I went to a big urban high school.

    Yet everyone opting out of city schools is a big reason why the city schools struggle. At what point do we accept responsibility that crummy schools are a community problem, and make it socially uncouth to turn your back on them?

    I’d think city teachers would be the natural constituency to lead this charge.

  • Are the city schools truly such a Jonathan Kozolian nightmare that to send your children to public schools is to cut their futures out from under their feet?

    In a word: yes. A few city schools are quite good but some are this bad. I stopped teaching in such a school because I was frustrated and unhappy that I could not find a way to be a part of a good school.

    One teacher can’t change a whole school if the system is totally dysfunctional. I’m taking about basics, like having phone numbers and addresses for parents that are up to date so teachers can call home. Having consistent discipline. Letting teachers know when students have learning divisibilities and providing proper support for those students. Giving ESL students bilingual teachers. Not switching text books every 2 years.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I never understood why teachers insist on living in the burbs but teaching in the city.”

    Many of the teachers I know who live in the city sent their kids to Catholic schools.

    For decades the city’s schools have consisted of a small number of good schools intended to buy off a segment of the city’s population, and a large number of bad schools intended to provide an income for those who didn’t want to work, and a holding pen for those thought incapable of learning, while freeing up funding for pensions and schools in the rest of the state by being cheap. For a while I thought that might change, but lately I’m less optimistic.

  • bob

    As someone whose mother was a suburbanite (transplanted from NYC) who taught in the Bronx for 20+ years, I can attest that at least one such teacher did it because of dedication to the cause. I can’t defend anyone’s choice to “fly” from the city to the burbs, but I’m wondering if barring non-NYC teachers from teaching in NYC schools would have opposite of the intended effect – I doubt it alone would cause any suburbanites to choose to move back to the city, while it might significantly reduce the pool of talented teachers for the city. I know many of my mom’s colleagues were from Westchester & northern NJ. Food for thought.

  • Larry, the notion that teachers “don’t want to work” is absurd. I can’t think of a more stressful or more difficult job. The staffs of city schools are simply too young– there are not enough experienced teachers. There are also not enough teachers period. It’s not OK to have a math teacher who only knows English teaching ESL students. Or a gym teacher teaching special ed English.

    But that’s what happens every day.

    And money is wasted on fancy consulting firms, new textbooks, useless computers and other assorted junk that only lines the pockets of publishers and outside firms.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Interesting info on teacher’s salaries, thanks all.

  • I’m beginning to wonder whether I should just forget about wanting to be a math teacher and go back to the corporate rat-race instead….

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I’m beginning to wonder whether I should just forget about wanting to be a math teacher and go back to the corporate rat-race instead.”

    Download that spreadsheet and take a look at total instructional pay and benefits per student in NYC in FY 2006. Multiple by your average class size. And compare the results (over $240K I’d guess) to what you are getting paid.

    My guess is that it isn’t even close.

  • Jeff Kaufman

    While the loss of parking privileges is one thing the other matter is the apparent willingness for the UFT to give up rights of teachers that have been part of their contract for many years. No one became a teacher became a teacher because of the paring placards but, justy as vacation and other benefits, parking is a part of our compensation.

  • mike

    Jeff – you better hope that parking is not part of your compensation, or you’d owe lots of back taxes.

  • fafacious

    Jeff – If parking is part of your compensation, then I’m owed. I was a NYC teacher for 4 years and never once drove to work, even when I did have a car. Maybe I should call a lawyer. I’ll set about figuring out a monetary value to this compensation and sue the DOE. Parking was never a “right” the UFT guaranteed. While the UFT has given back a lot in recent contracts, I’m not too concerned about teachers losing their “right to parking”. As others have pointed out increased use of mass transit, car pooling and perhaps needs based permit distribution would go a long way towards eliminating the issue being discussed here.

    Too bad we don’t teach civics anymore.

  • fafacious, I agree 100 percent. When “parking” is part of compensation people who make the choice that’s better for the environment and the city feel foolish since they aren’t using the benefit. When I was a teacher I never had my own classroom or office — perhaps I should have taken the free parking perk and set up my office in the parking lot? It boggles my mind how in a city where space is at such a premium we can thoughtlessly devote so much space to parked cars.

  • Jeff, parking is not part of teachers’ compensation, no matter what your union’s contract might say. Same for cops and every other civil servant who claims that parking is owed to them: your contract does not actually have any authority over parking. And it sure as hell does not, no matter what it says, supercede city control over public space, justifying things like parking on sidewalks. No way.

  • CH

    Parking as compensation is an increasingly unrealistic notion.

    This parking argument is akin to the supposed class disparity some tried to highlight in their opposition to congestion pricing. It is not cheap to own and drive/park a car in New York, and if you are driving… well, you either have the money to afford it or you’re making bad financial choices. It is relatively cheap to use transit, and transit is readily available in all boroughs.

    If you’re a public sector employee and you think the loss of free parking will suddenly be an unfair economic burden, you need to reconsider where you live, where you work, and how you connect the two. This is a fundamental choice everyone makes- not just in New York. If you’re smart, you make the appropriate choice and don’t leave yourself in a position where you “have to” drive. Particularly in such a congested environment where space should come at a premium.

  • Larry Littlefield

    If parking is part of compensation, then teachers who don’t drive to work and park for free are paid less than those who do.

    More likely those not driving are younger. And as a result of the recent contract, which allowed current teachers to retire seven years early without paying an additional dime but will force newly hired teachers to pay far more into the pension plan, younger generations of teachers are screwed again.

    As in all municipal contracts.

  • Felix

    If the city is bestowing something of value on teachers – isn’t that compensation? I’m not a labor lawyer, but it seems to me this should be settled at the bargaining table, not by mayoral decree.

    However, as a non-driving teacher, I want the union to fight for equal compensation for me. And maybe if they had helped Bloomberg reduce traffic by passing congestion pricing, he wouldn’t have taken away so many permits.

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