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Marvin Markman, UFT (Local 2) Executive Board

Last summer's QuEST Conference had many interesting workshops and presentations. At the same time, Sandra Feldman's remarks to a forum of Superintendents from a number of large cities and her "new type of contract" proposal are a cause of great concern for the future of the AFT.

At the forum, President Feldman indicated that she would be willing to sharply modify seniority. The audience was stunned -- there was complete silence. This prompted the moderator to observe that the audience did not seem to agree with her. Sandy's comeback was that there has not been any discussion on this subject yet.

Perhaps, in the rarified atmosphere of the AFT leadership, there was more discussion on the "new type of contract." What would this new type of contract look like? Well, we would now all be professionals -- teachers, paraprofessionals, school and district administrators. We would all sit down and work out what is best for children and we would implement our ideas. Sounds nice but how will destroying contractual guarantees that locals have achieved over many decades bring about this utopia?

Here are some of the details:

  • "A streamlined district level contract which defines the parameters of salaries, benefits, and conditions, but makes the schools the focus of all decisions affecting instruction."

  • "Professionals at the school level would have the autonomy and flexibility to work out the details of class size, scheduling and time to meet the needs of their students and programs."

  • "The future contract would set standards for fairness and for dispute resolution, but would transform what has been an overly legalistic and adversarial process into a professional and collegial one."

Anyone familiar with schools knows that placing bargaining at a school level makes it more difficult to negotiate agreements that are good for teachers and students. It breaks the power of the union. While there are many success stories in public education, these advances could not have been made without decades of struggle.

The crisis in education (teacher shortages, physical plant deterioration, large class sizes, not enough funds for teacher salaries and programs for children, attempts to destroy public education, and the runaway "standards" movement) has still not been adequately addressed. President Feldman was based more in reality when she stated, earlier in here speech, "The social compact we entered into, in which high standards were supposed to be joined by the conditions necessary for them to work for all kids, has not been fulfilled. Not at all." "Not at all" policies that have failed should not continue to be followed. We owe more to our members and to public education!