done deal

With 77 percent of the vote, UFT members approve new nine-year contract

The rank-and-file of the city teachers union voted to approve a new contract deal with the city, officials announced Tuesday, delivering long-awaited wage increases to educators and a victory to a new mayor who has pledged to improve the school system by partnering with the union.

The contract was endorsed by more than 77 percent of United Federation of Teachers members, which includes paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, secretaries, and others in addition to teachers. About 75 percent of the nearly 64,000 teachers who voted approved the deal.

The nine-year contract agreement gives teachers an eventual 19.5 percent raise, when compounded, along with retroactive pay, which teachers will receive in installments spread out over several years. In return, the union has agreed to reduce health-care costs by over $1 billion, though it is still unclear how the savings will be achieved. Many teachers have criticized the way the retroactive raises and back pay will be disbursed and worried that union members will be forced to pay for the health-care savings.

The contract introduces a number of new initiatives, including ones that would allow schools to redesign their schedules, top teachers to take on more duties for higher pay, and parents to interact more often with educators. It also simplifies the way teachers are rated and replaces time for student tutoring with time for teacher professional development.

“I believe this is a watershed moment for our school system,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

Voter turnout was high, perhaps because teachers had gone so long without casting a ballot. Union officials said 90,731 ballots were cast and counted, the highest in its history. By comparison, approximately 78,000 ballots were counted in 2006, when 91 percent of union members voted to ratify the contract.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said he was “ecstatic” at the margin by which the contract passed.

“The teachers of New York City are at an all-time low in morale,” Mulgrew said, after addressing members of the negotiating team at UFT headquarters. “They’re at an all-time low in morale and yet they overwhelmingly voted to approve this contract.”

The contract includes a number of provisions that will change how teachers are paid and school days are structured.

It establishes three new positions that would give teachers additional responsibilities in exchange for extra pay ranging from $7,000 to $20,000. The city will also be able to chose “hard-to-staff” schools that serve low-income communities and where teacher turnover has been high, where teachers will be eligible for $5,000 bonuses.

“We are going to help good educators stay and grow in this profession, and usher real reform that will lift up kids across the whole system,” de Blasio said.

The contract includes time allotted for teachers to work with each other and with parents, but reduces time previously reserved for specifically for small-group instruction. The contract will also allow a set number of schools to apply to be released from certain contract rules but held accountable to new performance targets, while acting as innovation incubators for the rest of the school system.

Some critics have argued that the innovation program will not give schools enough freedom to experiment and have questioned whether replacing tutoring with professional-development time for teachers will benefit students. Those critics, including ones that frequently clash with the union, attacked new protections in the contract for educators in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, who do not have permanent placements but draw full salaries.

“Instead of delivering the real reform that students need, kids got a shorter school day and the return of ineffective teachers from the ATR pool,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY. “This squandered opportunity will be a defining legacy of Mayor de Blasio’s term.”

In a statement, members of MORE, a opposition group within the union, said they too were disappointed by the contract’s ratification.

“Different titles of teachers, with different pay and different expectations, will now be created and over ten percent of our schools will operate outside of UFT contractual rules and DOE regulations,” they said, referring to the 200 slots for schools in the innovation program. “This creates a union membership increasingly divided against itself and members who will have even less of a reason to stand together in solidarity.”

Maritza Narvaez, a pre-kindergarten teacher at P.S. 239 in Queens, said she welcomed the deal even if it does not give educators everything they sought.

“Something is better than nothing,” she said, noting the pay hike and new professional opportunities. “We’re being recognized for our hard work.”

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed reporting.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”