July/August Issue - Receivership
June 30, 2015

NYSUT creates network of leaders in likely receivership schools

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Clockwise, from bottom left, NYSUT Vice President Catalina R. Fortino; Pat Puleo, president of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers; Nick Whitman, NYSUT labor relations specialist; and Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, are part of the leadership team weighing receivership issues.
Caption: Clockwise, from bottom left, NYSUT Vice President Catalina R. Fortino; Pat Puleo, president of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers; Nick Whitman, NYSUT labor relations specialist; and Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, are part of the leadership team weighing receivership issues.

Emphasizing the need for sharing best practices and common concerns, NYSUT convened a summit of local union leaders from high-needs districts that may be subject to the governor's onerous receivership law.

"As soon as this became law, we immediately wanted to provide an opportunity to bring everyone together to figure out the issues, concerns and ask questions," said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino. "We are creating a network."

The governor's receivership plan, which overrides local control and collective bargaining in an effort to turn around struggling schools, was approved in April as part of the state budget. NYSUT strongly opposed the idea and is pressing for a slower phase-in and more planning time and looking at ways to challenge the new law.

The Board of Regents, which approved emergency regulations at its June meeting, is expected to issue a final list of targeted schools July 1. Currently, it appears 17 districts have schools that could be affected by the new law.

The Regents noted any turnaround plans must include up-front professional development, research-based academic programs and community/parent involvement.

The law establishes two levels of receivership: "superintendent receivership" and "independent receivership," which means the state hires an individual, nonprofit company, charter operator or even another district to manage and operate all aspects of a struggling school.

Under the law, "persistently struggling" schools, or those that have been in the most severe accountability status since the 2006-07 school year, will be under superintendent receivership for an initial one-year period to improve student performance. Those that have been priority schools since the 2012-13 school year will be given two years to improve under superintendent receivership.

The school receiver may make curriculum changes, replace teachers and administrators, increase salaries of educators, change the school budget, expand the school day and/or year and order conversion to a charter school. The receiver may ask teachers to negotiate a new bargaining agreement over length of day or year, professional development, class size and changes in program, assignments and teaching conditions.

Fortino noted how important it is for union leaders to be part of school district planning teams. NYSUT, working with SED, was able to secure seats for local presidents to attend a stakeholders meeting and SED has committed to having space for local leaders at future meetings.

Fortino noted districts are required to designate community engagement teams including parents, teachers and other school staff and students. School intervention plans must be based on stakeholder input and student achievement data, and include a process for converting the school into a community school, according to the law.

Local leaders and NYSUT staff heard from American Federation of Teachers' Barbara Palazzo, who described the receivership experience in Lawrence, Mass. She said it only worked in schools where there was real collaboration between labor and management, not imposed top-down.

In Lawrence, a district cited by Gov. Cuomo as a receivership model, the receiver negotiated a new contract with the Lawrence teachers and the union is running one of the elementary schools. The contract includes stipends for longer school days and a new career ladder for teacher leaders.

Frank McLaughlin, president of the Lawrence teachers union, told Capital New York the improvement is not due to state control but to more resources.

Local leaders at the NYSUT meeting said providing resources will be key to any turnaround plans. Struggling schools are suffering from "intense and overwhelming poverty," said Utica TA's Cherie Grant. With poverty comes poor attendance, violence, homelessness, illness and high turnover for both students and staff.

Test scores are also skewed by student mobility and English language learners who are forced to take inappropriate state assessments too soon, leaders said.

"That's what is giving us low statistics," said Roosevelt TA's Jeff Pullen. "They're judging us unfairly."

Troy TA President Seth Cohen said administrative turnover is also a huge issue, noting one of his district's struggling schools is on its third principal. "None of that is helpful for kids," he said.

Fortino said the state must provide meaningful resources — not just regulations — to support the schools in turnaround efforts. "We must engage communities and push for what our schools need to succeed."