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

New York Has Widened Its Lead in Per-Capita Spending on Medicaid

New York's per-capita Medicaid spending soared to more than double the nationwide rate in 2018, widening its gap with the other 49 states. Read More

State Pension Fund Lost Money in 2020, Pointing to Higher Costs Ahead

New York State’s biggest public pension lost money on its investments during the fiscal year that ended March 31—a completely unsurprising result, given the coronavirus crisis and its impact on financial markets in early spring. Read More

New York’s Medicaid Enrollment Surges to an All-Time High

New York's Medicaid program is growing at its fastest rate in six years, with a quarter-million additional enrollees landing in the safety-net health plan during the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic.  Read More

Lawmakers Look To Dump More Public Cash On Teamsters

State lawmakers this week moved to make public construction more expensive in a bid to steer work to one of New York’s struggling construction unions. Read More

In Slow Recovery, NY’s Job Drop as of June was Still Among the Worst in U.S.

While New York's economy continued to ever-so-slowly recover in June, the Empire State's year-to-year percentage decline in private employment since the pandemic lockdown remained the worst in the continental U.S., according to the latest payroll establishment data from federal and state agencies. Read More

New York’s Health Premiums Remain Among the Highest in the U.S.

The average cost of New Yorkers' health benefits increased by less than the national average in 2019 but remained among the highest in the U.S., according to recently published federal data. Read More

New York’s Medicaid Roller Coaster Takes an Unusual Turn

The state's Medicaid spending was significantly lower than projected in the first quarter, but that's not necessarily a positive sign for state finances. Read More

AOC’s Favorite State “Billionaires Tax” Bill Would Run Afoul of NY Constitution

Some of New York City's leading progressive Democrats are mounting a campaign to pressure Governor Cuomo into backing a big new "wealth tax" on New York billionaires. 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.