June 12, 2020

Union advocacy wins tenure for fourth-year teachers

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Thanks to union advocacy, 54 Utica teachers won’t have to wait another year to earn tenure.

After a big push by NYSUT’s legislative department, the governor this week issued an executive order exempting school districts from completing annual professional performance reviews for teachers in 2019-20. This paves the way for fourth-year probationary teachers like the Utica educators to be granted tenure this year.

A number of districts including Utica had been offering teachers a fifth year of probation because the pandemic derailed so many teachers’ fourth-year ratings. State law requires that teachers must receive four years of acceptable ratings, along with the superintendent’s recommendation, in order to win tenure.

“It was down to the wire for all 54 teachers,” said Utica Teachers Association President Tricia Warner. “Everybody’s just so relieved.”

Warner said that once the executive order was issued, the district superintendent agreed to recommend all 54 teachers for tenure. The district and union signed a Memorandum of Agreement today, with a school board vote expected as soon as next week.

“Once they got clear direction, the district moved forward and stood by their teachers,” Warner said. “But no question, it was NYSUT’s big push with the governor’s office that made this happen.”  She also credited NYSUT labor relations specialist Randy Gunther and NYSUT Legal for their help to seal the deal.

The June 7 executive order suspends APPR requirements for schools around the state for the 2019-20 school year.  After schools closed statewide in March, many districts were unable to conduct the required in-person observations and the state assessments used for many teacher evaluations were canceled.  Here’s NYSUT’s updated APPR Fact Sheet.

While some districts went ahead and granted tenure to fourth-year probationers or extended their probation by one year, other teachers were in limbo until the executive order clarified the issue. The Rochester City School District has said it will grant tenure to more than 200 fourth-year probationary  teachers in the coming months, as a result of the executive order.

 “It would have been grossly unfair to punish these fourth-year probationary teachers because of the pandemic,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “While school buildings have been closed since mid-March, our educators have been working around the clock to be there for their students in every way possible.”

When Warner posted the news on her local union’s Facebook page, a long stream of “thank you’s” came streaming in. She said her local union traditionally hosts a party in May to celebrate newly tenured teachers and retirees. They usually have a luau theme, complete with a D.J. and leis — and of course, tenure pins.

“We’ll have to plan something different this year,” Warner said. “It’s not like any other year.”

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