New York’s statewide teachers union is exploiting a lack of direction from Governor Andrew Cuomo to force an early end to the school year.

A May 8 memo from New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) leadership to its local presidents, a copy of which was obtained by the Empire Center, says “barring any further guidance from the Governor, school districts can finish the 2019-20 school year when the contractual number of days is met.”


This is an installment in a special series of #NYCoronavirus chronicles by Empire Center analysts, focused on New York’s state and local policy response to the Coronavirus pandemic.


The state Education Department, interpreting Cuomo’s executive orders, told schools to continue their modified teaching operations through spring break periods that had been scheduled for April—something NYSUT did not publicly oppose at the time. 

However, the teachers’ union now argues districts must slice five days off the normally scheduled end of the school year. NYSUT is leaning on the fact that teacher contracts fix salaries based on the number of days worked, rather than hours.

And it stands to reason that many New York public school teachers have worked fewer hours since the crisis began. The New York Post last month reported that some teachers had “abandoned” live instruction and were in contact with their students less than once a week. 

The state does not appear to be verifying, or even attempting to document, the amount of teaching actually taking place. State exams have been canceled, students in most cases won’t be getting normal grades, and the governor’s orders have left districts with no alternative but to keep paying teachers regardless of how much time or effort they’re putting in.

Despite all of that, school districts face a predicament: remain virtually “open” and risk litigation from teachers claiming they’re owed extra pay, or chop a week off of what’s already been a severely disrupted school year. Under New York’s public-sector collective bargaining law, virtually every facet of school district operations is governed by union contracts, which dictate everything from the length of the school year to the size of bulletin boards in the teachers’ lounge.

Cuomo can and should intercede using his special emergency powers granted by the Legislature to allow school districts to calculate the time worked, even if just for the remaining month of school, in hours that would together count toward the agreed-upon number of days.

At a time when close to two million New Yorkers are out of work, New York public school teachers have not only continued getting their full pay (and possibly stipends for non-existent duties), they’ve also kept racking up credits toward defined-benefit pensions. Asking the country’s highest-paid educators to put in the hours they were expected to work isn’t unreasonable.

After all, as NYSUT is keen to otherwise point out, it’s for the children.

About the Author

Ken Girardin

Ken Girardin is the Empire Center’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Read more by Ken Girardin

You may also like

Amid Cuomo’s Fulminations, New York’s Budget Gap Keeps Shrinking

State tax receipts in the month of December came in $1.4 billion above the latest projection by Governor Cuomo's Division of the Budget (DOB), according to a cash report released late today by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office. on the numbers Read More

The State’s Vaccine Appointment System Was Not Ready for Prime Time

The two top priorities Governor Cuomo identified in his State of the State speech Monday morning were "Defeat COVID" and "Vaccinate New York." Read More

A Study in Contrasts: Cuomo’s 2011 and 2021 State of the State Messages

State of the State messages by New York governors customarily lay out general goals and priorities, rather than specifics. Even in general terms, however, there is a striking contrast between Governor Cuomo's latest State of the State and his first annual message to the Legislature, which he delivered five days after taking office 10 years ago. Read More

New York Is Still Waiting For a Viable COVID-19 Vaccination Plan

Going on four weeks into what should have been a mass vaccination program, it's increasingly clear that the Cuomo administration did not have – and does not have – an adequate plan for immunizing 20 million New Yorkers. Read More

Pay Freeze for State Workers Extended—But (Again) Only Temporarily

The Cuomo administration is quietly extending a temporary freeze on scheduled pay hikes for about 135,000 unionized state government employees and public college faculty members—although the largest affected labor union says it still expects those bucks to flow retroactively to its members in the coming fiscal year. Read More

The Cuomo Administration Resists Sharing Records of its Vaccine Review

After second-guessing the FDA with its own vaccine task force, the Cuomo administration is declining to share even basic information about that panel's approval process until mid-February. Read More

Cuomo’s Summary of COVID-19 Contact Tracing Data Raises More Questions Than It Answers

The Cuomo administration's recently released summary of contact tracing data was a tantalizing disappointment. Information that could have clarified the risks of different activities during the coronavirus pandemic was pres Read More

NYC Turns from Rewarding Failure in Schools to Punishing Success

Mayor de Blasio began his tenure by rewarding New York City’s worst-performing schools with added funding. He’s now set to end it by punishing the city’s best. Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.