New York Times
January 12, 2012
By DAVID W. CHEN and ANNA M. PHILLIPS
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, directly confronting leaders of the teachers’ union, proposed on Thursday a merit-pay system that would award top performers with $20,000 raises and threatened to remove as many as half of those working in dozens of struggling schools.
Delivering his 11th and penultimate State of the City address, Mr. Bloomberg vowed to double down on his longstanding efforts to revive the city’s long-struggling schools, saying, “We have to be honest with ourselves: we have only climbed halfway up the mountain, and halfway isn’t good enough.”
“We cannot accept failing schools,” he added during an unusually forceful one-hour speech at the Morris Educational Campus in the Bronx. “And we cannot accept excuses for inaction or delay.”
Mr. Bloomberg said he would take several steps to circumvent obstacles to his proposals posed by city labor unions. He pointedly referred to the United Federation of Teachers numerous times and seemed to relish diving into some of the most controversial subjects in the education world, including merit pay, teacher evaluations and a large increase in charter schools.
But in an indication of how difficult the fight will be, the union’s president, Michael Mulgrew, conspicuously declined to applaud during education-related moments of the speech and declared afterward that the mayor was living in a “fantasy education world,” proposing ideas that he did not have the power to put into effect.
The city’s public advocate, Bill de Blasio, called the education proposals “needlessly provocative,” and the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, said the mayor was taking “a lone ranger approach to education.” The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, was more cautious, calling the plan “very aggressive.” All three officials are planning to run for mayor in 2013.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was more supportive. In a statement, he praised Mr. Bloomberg’s “positive vision” and said he looked forward “to working together to create an accountability system that puts the interests of students ahead of the interests of the education bureaucracy.”
Mr. Bloomberg, a political independent who has been mayor since 2002, dedicated more than half of his address to education, leaving little doubt that he intends to devote much of the next two years to a subject that he wants to be a part of his legacy.
Mr. Bloomberg is a polarizing figure in the education world — praised as a passionate advocate for a reform movement that emphasizes competition and results, but also criticized for an overemphasis on data, like test scores and graduation rates.
The campus where he delivered his speech was a reminder of the complexity of his record. The 115-year-old institution has seen a significant increase in high school graduation rates, and was among the first converted into a campus of small schools. But it was also one of the schools that Cathleen P. Black, whose brief and unhappy tenure as chancellor was one of Mr. Bloomberg’s most visible education missteps, visited during her first day on the job.
In a proposal that echoes one of the most ambitious merit-pay systems for teachers in the nation, which has been in effect for two years in Washington, Mr. Bloomberg proposed enticing top teachers to remain in the profession with a $20,000 bonus if they are rated “highly effective” for two consecutive years.
He said the city should offer to pay off up to $25,000 in student loans — $5,000 a year, for five years — for top college graduates who teach in the city’s schools.
And, seeking to break through a stalemate between the city and the union over a teacher evaluation system, he said the city would form committees to evaluate teachers at 33 struggling schools based on classroom performance. He said this would allow the city to “replace up to 50 percent of the faculty” at these schools, and to reclaim nearly $60 million in federal grants that have been withheld because of the lack of an evaluation system.
But union officials said Mr. Bloomberg’s approach would not make the city eligible for the federal money, because it did not constitute an evaluation system.
He drew the loudest applause when he promised to “help lead the charge” for New York State to pass its version of the Dream Act, to help children of illegal immigrants apply for state-sponsored college assistance.
In addition to education, Mr. Bloomberg said he would focus on job creation during a down economy, revisiting the major theme of his State of the City address last year.
He highlighted, to great applause, the city’s attempt, for the second time in recent years, to redevelop the vacant Kingsbridge Armory, in the northwest corner of the Bronx. The city also plans to try to promote investment and development in the area around Grand Central Terminal, a vibrant but aging commercial district in Manhattan.
He vowed to push for an increase in the state’s minimum wage, joining the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, in the effort.
Mr. Bloomberg also offered several ideas for making the city a safer and easier place to navigate for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers. He said he would double the number of 20-mile-per-hour zones for schools and add miles of bike lanes, while deploying traffic enforcement agents to “safety hot spots at key intersections.” He said he would push to enforce a measure requiring bicycle delivery riders to have the right safety equipment and uniforms identifying the name of their business.
He set a goal for New York, long viewed as a laggard on the recycling front, of doubling the amount of garbage the city diverts from landfills over the next five years. The mayor will commit the city to expand recycling to include all rigid plastics, like yogurt cups and medicine bottles, by summer 2013, when a new recycling plant under construction in Brooklyn is expected to come online. The effort calls for increasing the number of recycling receptacles in public spaces to 1,000 by 2014 from about 600 now.
The efforts still fall far short of what many other American cities are doing, but environmentalists who have followed New York’s waste management over the years said they were cautiously optimistic.
Outside the school, the speech was greeted by dozens of protesters, most objecting to the city’s plan to stop allowing churches to hold worship services in school buildings next month. A police spokesman said there were 43 arrests for disorderly conduct.
Reporting was contributed by Joseph Goldstein, Michael M. Grynbaum, Mireya Navarro and Kate Taylor.