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

In Pandemic Recovery, New York’s Tax Base Is More Fragile Than Ever

New York's exceptionally wealthy state tax base is also exceptionally fragile, due to its heavy dependence on the highly volatile (and portable) investment-driven incomes of Wall Street workers and fund managers. Read More

New York’s Private Jobs Rebound Still Trails Most of U.S.

In the seventh month of the coronavirus pandemic, private-sector employment in New York was still recovering more slowly than in other states from the after-effects of the broad spring shutdowns of normal business and social life, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Read More

Mixed September for NY: Job Recovery Sluggish, Tax Receipts Up

Continuing a trend from mid-summer, New York's private jobs recovery slowed a little more in September—but state tax receipts came in a bit stronger than expected, according to two monthly reports released by the state late today. Read More

De Blasio’s (Apparent) Good Move Dissolves Into Phony “Savings”

Late Thursday, as hailed in this space, Mayor de Blasio finally made a decisive move—or at least seemed to make a move—in the direction of actually saving some money on labor costs by getting tough with a powerful (and powerfully self-entitled) municipal union. Read More

‘Clusters’ Drive a Widespread Surge in New York’s Coronavirus Infection Rates

New York's coronavirus infection rates have surged to their highest levels since May, pushing 10 counties – including Brooklyn, Rockland and Orange – above a threshold that the Cuomo administration uses to justify travel restrictions on other states. Read More

Not a Moment Too Soon, Bill de Blasio Is Setting a Good Fiscal Example

After months of flailing, floundering and stalling on desperately needed cuts to New York City's pandemic-ravaged budget, Mayor de Blasio just made a smart and appropriate move to save money—in the process defying one of New York's most powerful government employee unions. Read More

Cahill Charges Are An Indictment Of Cuomo’s Policies

Yesterday’s indictment of the state’s top construction union official on federal corruption charges raises a big question: if private companies are paying bribes to avoid having to work with certain construction unions, why is Governor Cuomo insisting that the state keep doing it? Read More

It’s Official: New York State’s Second Quarter Economic Crash Was the Worst on Record

Further evidence of the massive damage done to New York’s economy by the coronavirus pandemic shutdown has emerged in the latest gross domestic product (GDP) data from the federal Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Affairs. 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.