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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Re-Assignment Rooms May Start in Rochester, NY

April 17, 2008
Teachers on paid suspension may get new tasks
David Andreatta, Staff writer,Democrat and Chronicle

The City School District will spend almost $9,900 this week to pay teachers accused of misconduct to stay home while they wait — sometimes for months — for investigations of their cases to grind to conclusion.

That practice would end under a plan being hatched by the district to expedite investigations and require suspended teachers to report to a central location during school hours and work for their paychecks.

"I don't believe in putting people in a job location or a position that is not related to their career," Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard said in a recent interview.

"But to send them home, honestly, to go, in my opinion, watch television, is also not fair to taxpayers."

Currently there are eight district teachers — whose combined annual salaries total $514,078 — being paid to stay away from their schools, according to district data provided to the Democrat and Chronicle.

The data was turned over to the newspaper at the insistence of Brizard after the district had rejected a Freedom of Information Law request on the topic, claiming through a spokesman that it did not keep such records.

News of the plan surfaced this week during a meeting at district headquarters between Brizard and Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, that was intended to clarify the positions of both sides on proposed reforms.

The proposed work center is part of a much broader effort by the district to systematically evaluate teachers and administrators and to overhaul the process by which allegations against educators are investigated.

Under a reform strategy outlined by Brizard last month, investigatory duties would be taken from the district's human resources department and given to an appointed investigator in the school safety unit, which is headed by James Sheppard, a former deputy police chief for the city. That investigator has not yet been named.

Brizard said accused teachers assigned to the work center would be given "dignified" assignments while they await the outcome of investigations.

No disciplinary charges have been filed yet against seven of the eight teachers who are being paid to stay home, and one of those seven has been waiting nearly a year for an investigation to conclude, according to the district.

Proceedings have been initiated to fire the eighth teacher and one other who has been suspended without pay, according to the district. Rochester has roughly 3,600 teachers, and once they receive tenure, removing them can involve an elaborate and lengthy process of hearings and appeals.

Neither reassigning teachers accused of malfeasance to a central location nor paying them to stay home is a novel concept. School districts around the country, depending on their size, use both policies.

In the Syracuse district, for instance, accused educators are not required to work while awaiting the outcome of investigations. New York City teachers are sent to reassignment centers notoriously known as "rubber rooms" because of their spartan decor and dearth of intellectual stimulation.

Urbanski said he would not tolerate a policy that leads to a "rubber room" in Rochester, but he welcomed a proposal that would give accused teachers "reasonable and useful" work at a central location.

"This kind of proposal would have to retain the presumption of innocence and the dignity of the person," Urbanski said. "I do believe that changing the location is actually more dignified than sending someone home, and more productive."

Brizard said the district would deliver an outline of the plan to the union by the end of the month.

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