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Sunday, December 28, 2008

ATRs: Absent Teacher Reserves

$81 Million for Reserve of Teachers

New York City is paying $81 million over two years in salaries and benefits for teachers without permanent teaching jobs, according to a report being released on Tuesday.

The teachers are part of the so-called reserve pool, which holds teachers whose positions have been eliminated, but who have yet to secure a new permanent teaching position at another school.

The reserve is an outgrowth of the city’s contract with the teachers’ union, which ended seniority rights in staffing decisions as well as the automatic transfer of teachers who had been cut because of shrinking enrollment, the closing of large schools or the elimination of particular programs. At the time, Chancellor Joel I. Klein said he would rather absorb the cost of the teachers in the reserve pool than saddle principals with teachers they did not want.

Under the contract, teachers whose positions have been eliminated from one school and cannot find another to hire them, or who simply do not look for a new job, are assigned to schools to fill in as substitute teachers or temporary replacements. They collect full teacher salary and benefits.

Teachers at those schools are required to show up every day at regular school hours and are available for principals to use as substitutes, but the principals are not required to do so. Officials at the Education Department said they did not track how often the principals used the assigned substitutes, or whether they did at all.

Since 2006, when the contract took effect, more than 600 teachers have been placed in the reserve after failing to find new positions, according to the report by the New Teacher Project, which recruits and trains teachers for school systems across the country, including New York City. The report found that nearly half the reserve teachers had not applied for any vacancies through the city’s new online job posting system.

Timothy Daly, the president of the New Teacher Project and the lead author of the report, called the elimination of automatic transfers a resounding success that enjoyed widespread support among teachers who chose to switch schools. But he said the payments to the reserve pool were a flaw in the system.

“I don’t think anybody thinks that the system can keep paying for this in the long term,” he said. “It would undermine all the good stuff that is happening.”

The report drew praise from city officials. But Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, dismissed it, calling the New Teacher Project a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the Education Department.

The New Teacher Project runs the city’s Teaching Fellows program under a $4 million contract that expires in 2010. It also has relationships with other cities and has studied staff systems in several districts, including Portland, Ore., Milwaukee and Chicago.

“The most repulsive part of this report is that the D.O.E. is abdicating its responsibility to help the teachers who, through no fault of their own, have lost their positions,” Ms. Weingarten added. “It’s the quintessential blame-the-victim strategy.”

In the past, Mr. Klein has suggested that most teachers in the reserve pool are so undesirable that no principal would hire them or that they simply do not try to find a job. The report said reserve teachers who had not found a permanent place were six times as likely as other teachers to have received an unsatisfactory rating sometime in their careers, although that rating had nothing to do with why their prior jobs had been eliminated.

More than 90 percent of the roughly 2,700 teachers whose positions were cut in 2006 found jobs at other schools within several months, the report said.

“This shows how well the open-market system has worked,” said Dan Weisberg, the schools’ chief executive for labor policy. “We’re able to retain more talented teachers, and principals are extremely happy to be choosing their own teams.”

The report said veteran teachers were not “inherently disadvantaged” in finding new spots. But recently the union filed a lawsuit accusing the schools of age discrimination, pointing to the new policy, coupled with a new system that makes veteran teachers more costly for principals to hire.

When the teachers’ contract was revised in 2005, many veterans of the school system, including union officials, warned that it would be extremely difficult to place teachers in new assignments. Ms. Weingarten said Monday that those fears had come true.

She said Mr. Klein had broken apart the structures that once efficiently reassigned teachers. Local district offices that could balance the changing needs of different schools no longer exist, and principals in many cases are effectively operating on their own, as chief executives of their schools, she said.

During a conference call with reporters, Ms. Weingarten had four teachers in the reserve at Evander Childs High School in the Bronx speak of their experiences. Each said they had applied for several jobs, though not all had used the new online system.

The report comes as the city and the union are preparing to battle further over school budget cuts. In recent weeks, the relationship between Ms. Weingarten and Mr. Klein has soured even more as they have increasingly clashed over the cuts as well as teacher tenure rules. The teachers’ contract is scheduled to expire in October next year, on the eve of the mayoral election — making it unlikely that a deal will be struck with the Bloomberg administration.

“The danger here is that at some point these excess teachers will be forced into vacancies and into schools,” Mr. Weisberg said. “There’s no question what’s the most efficient thing to do. Obviously it’s very tempting, but it would be an awful thing for kids.”

Also on Monday, the union released an analysis suggesting that the city had misspent some of the $152.7 million in new state money meant to lower class sizes.

The analysis found that 48.5 percent of 390 elementary and middle schools that received state class size reduction money did not lower class sizes, and that the average class size at more than a third of the schools had increased over the past year.

William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller and likely mayoral candidate, said he would conduct an audit to determine where the money had been spent. The state also is planning to monitor the spending.

Elissa Gootman contributed reporting.

From teacher Polo Colon:

This ATR thing is not covered anywhere in the contract and therefore is an illegal DOE action. Neither did the rank and file negotiate any part of it, so it is a creation of the DOE, as was the advent and extent of the Workshop Model's carte blanche utilization as a very convenient tool to hurt teachers. Why is nobody on this issue at all?

Teachers have become ATRs largely because principals have been using the Workshop Model to get rid of teachers. In short order, teachers follow the principal's flow-chart road to becoming rubber-roomed (euphemistically called "temporarily reassigned").

Then, after reassignment, many teachers become ATRs because principals have been authorized to use the instrument of the Workshop Model to terminate teachers, or at least, undermine the protection of tenure for teachers. Principals are indemnified and imbued with power with the blessing of the Tweed Leadership Academy (which Klein resigned from after creating his monster) as you can read about in their Manual for Principals on How to Fire Tenured Teachers!

What almost inevitably follows is that many of the tenured teachers get a kangaroo-court penalty (3020a arbitration decision) or bribe (otherwise known as a "settlement") so that they are intimidated and forced to agree to be relegated to the status of ATRs!

Here's how the Workshop Model is employed as the premier guillotine of the DOE for teachers, so they can get the advantage and demote them to the status and teaching assignment called "Absent Teacher Reserves":

In order to indict teachers, their Workshop Model mini-lesson was written up as too short or too long or not on target; the teaching point did not adhere to the calendar, was too long or too short; the connection was vague or not direct or recent enough; the bulletin board did not adequately reflect it; the active engagement was not active enough or too active or too busy; the children were confused (as opposed to contemplating what to do) or unclear as to what was expected, inattentive and fidgeting; children's accountable talk is slanted to be too argumentative and even fighting about it; ad nauseam, et cetera. In short, the targeted teacher can be documented, even disparately, on ANY aspect of the Workshop Model - AND THERE ARE NO SAFEGUARDS IN PLACE TO STOP THEM FROM DOING THIS!

Really, they do it simply because they can - and they can get away with it!

When the teacher is put up against the wall at the INQUEST (sound a bit like the SPANISH INQUISITION?), it's already set up to be like "dead man walking"!
The cards are stacked up against the poor teacher, since everybody involved plays along with "the game" and the DOE has been given a head-start with up to 6 months to trump up, fabricate and/or exaggerate a case against the hapless victim teacher. That is what goes on and if anyone wants to challenge that, come to me and I'll show them all the regurgitated evidence they can swallow!

So the question becomes: how do we get laws enacted with penalties for the DOE, the principals, superintendents and the Chancellor and their "administrators-gone-wild" for arbitrarily, capriciously and maliciously hurting teachers?

As a preventative measure to discourage administrative terrorists from destroying the livelihoods and lives of teachers, shouldn't a schedule of punishments be set up?

Maybe this might at last, once and for all put an end to the abuse of the ATR's, whose ranks I am likely to soon be among, though not by choice.

Polo Colon

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