Posted by Leonard Steinberg on March 8th, 2014

Mayor de Blasio’s intense focus on the destruction of New York’s highly successful Charter School program begs the question: what are our Mayor’s priorities? Charter Schools have been a huge success and only cater to around 70,000 kids, or 7% of the system. For a mayor who repeatedly voices his (justifiable) concerns about inequality, isn’t this a rather strange area to focus his attention? Poor black and Latino children are learning and closing the painful racial achievement gap: If he truly cared about those kids, surely de Blasio would celebrate their achievements no matter what school they attend?

And why? Some argue that Governor Cuomo was pandering politically by his support of the charter school system this week, yet with 93% of schooling no affected by this, we have to ask what is Mayor de Blasio’s motivation? Does it possibly have anything to do with his alliance to the Teacher’s Union, an organization many would attribute as New York’s School system’s primary weakness? Why does the Teacher’s Union hate Charter Schools?

Charter school teachers often have wage and benefit packages comparable to those of teachers in traditional schools. However, charter schools with fewer than 50 teachers are not automatically members of the UFT bargaining unit or covered under the union contract. Charter school teachers may vote to join the UFT, and the union has successfully organized a handful of them, but the majority of charter school teachers remain non-union.

Although charter schools make up less than 10% of New York City public schools, they are an important foot in the door for those who want to increasingly privatize education and weaken the teachers’ union. Charter school teachers represent a small but growing pool of non-unionized employees. Their workdays tend to be significantly longer and there is some evidence that the turnover rate is higher than in traditional public schools. And under state law, charter school teachers — unionized or not — cannot receive tenure. Under New York law, tenured teachers have the right to a hearing with an arbitrator before they can be fired, and can appeal an arbitrator’s ruling in civil court. While the Department of Education can also appeal an arbitrator’s decision to state courts, legal standards for overturning those rulings are very difficult to meet. Of course the arbitrators are partly selected by the Teacher’s Unions.

Which leads me to my point: Is this the ultimate veiled fight between privatization and government? Recently I cut my finger and instead of rushing to an emergency room at a hospital, I opted to visit City MD. The quality of service was so vastly superior to any emergency room visit it was actually startling. The concept of a Teacher’s Union is admirable for the protection of rights and fairness: unfortunately us voters have witnessed too many abuses of a system run amok to believe that this union is out of control and out of touch with taxpayers. Have they found in Mayor de Blasio a blindly loyal ally, one who disregards the shifting tides of public opinion? It would appear so. Mayor de Blasio’s ratings this week revealed a bleak picture, even amongst those he purports to helping most. A strong City demands the best schooling. A strong school system attracts the best and the brightest, strengthens the city, boosts real estate values (that boost tax coffers) and benefits all.

Maybe its time to return to the basics of being a Mayor…..being a great manager. Casting his attention on economic growth, cleaning up the real estate tax mess, minimizing waste (as I write this at 9am in bright daylight, I see hundreds of City lights still on, clocking up the City’s electricity bill, when maybe those savings could help pay for Pre-K education?) and focus on REAL fairness?