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Friday, July 24, 2015

YOUPS: A Look at New Jersey's Teachers Without Assignments

Kathleen Murphy-Butler is a Newark public school teacher without a permanent position for the fall
Pool for Unassigned Teachers Swells in Newark

City struggles with what to do with hundreds of teachers on the payroll who don’t have permanent assignments

As Newark school officials struggle to fix a long troubled system, one costly issue looms large: what to do with hundreds of teachers on the payroll who don’t have permanent assignments.
This pool of “educators without placement’’ rose to 453 people in June—or 15% of Newark teachers, according to a list from the Newark Teachers Union. Their total annual pay: $35 million.
Some are stuck in the pool due to poor ratings. Many are there because they balked at working longer hours in a school slated for an overhaul, or lost their positions when a school was revamped.
District officials say no one is idle; they work as substitutes, aides and other helpers. About 200 drew salaries topping $90,000, according to the union’s list. Some have lingered in this limbo for more than a year.
John Abeigon, President of the Newark Teacher's Union
Principals, who are required to hire from the pool to fill most vacancies, say they aren’t free to recruit the best faculty. Taxpayers are paying for staff that district officials have said could be cut. And teachers complain they don’t know where they will be put for temporary stints, and sometimes land in slots outside their expertise.
“The district has created a crisis,” said union spokesman Michael Maillaro. The pool “creates a bad situation for everyone.”
The pool grew out of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to make Newark a national model for education reform. The state-operated district has closed, merged or reconfigured dozens of schools over the past three years. Many teachers lost their posts as principals gained more autonomy in hiring and student enrollment dropped.
Recently departed superintendent Cami Anderson has said the pool served as a mechanism to avoid firing any high-performers: If the district had a reduction-in-force among teachers, seniority rules would protect tenured veterans and force her to cut newer staff, no matter who was most effective. So excess teachers were sent to the pool to avoid layoffs. She repeatedly asked for the state’s permission to “right-size” the faculty by waiving seniority rules. In the spring, she estimated that performance-based layoffs would save $10 million.
The pool has ballooned since March, when the district said it had 243 teachers. Ms. Anderson called it a burden on the $990 million budget, which was already strained by rising health-care fees and allocations to charter schools. On Tuesday, the district said that 92 clerks, security guards, custodians and others were being let go to help plug a budget gap.
Newark Teachers Union officials say most teachers in the excess pool earned good ratings and getting them lasting positions is a priority in contract negotiations. District spokeswoman Brittany Parmley said the district was taking steps to move them into classroom jobs and ensure all students had strong teachers.
But some school leaders say requiring principals to recruit from the pool can hurt children academically. Ms. Anderson reported in the spring that teachers in the pool were six times as likely to be rated ineffective as those with permanent spots.
Dominique Lee, founder of BRICK Academy, (pictured above) which runs two district schools in distressed neighborhoods, said it takes unique skills to nurture children facing hunger, inadequate housing and fractured families.
“In terms of finding the right teachers for our buildings, that population has diminished from the pool,” he said. “You want to give schools autonomy to find the right staff.”
The district’s new state-appointed superintendent, Chris Cerf, took charge this month and declined to comment on the issue, saying he was still reviewing it.
Some educators say the chaotic churn among faculty deprives children of caring adults who know them. Kathleen Murphy-Butler, an elementary school teacher and union official in the pool, said she used to have more than 200 parent contact numbers in her phone. Last year, she learned on Aug. 28 where to report in September, and started a temporary post at a new school without knowing any families.
“It puts the kids at a disadvantage,” she said. “In the inner city, parent support is the most important thing.”
The pool swelled recently due to the cyclical flux between school years; many teachers are expected to find jobs in the fall. Many teachers, however, are there because they balked at longer hours in schools slated for overhauls. Under a union-district agreement, teachers joined the pool if they didn’t agree to a stipend, typically $3,000, for working about an hour more daily, several Saturdays and two weeks in the summer. A union spokesman said some who kept to contract hours and left at 3:05 p.m. were derided by other staffers as “Three-oh-fivers.”
Some in the pool say they’re contributing as substitutes and that principals don’t hire them because doing so would shift their salaries from the central office’s budget to the school’s budget.
In certain ways, the pool resembles New York City’s Absent Teacher Reserve, where tenured teachers linger after school closures or disciplinary problems. In New York City, the education department said one out of 75 teachers was in the reserve in the spring. In Newark, by the union’s June count, about one out of seven teachers was in the excess pool.
Newark officials say all the excess teachers are given tasks so the pool is nothing like New York City’s notorious rubber room, where teachers used to sit idle while waiting for disputes over dismissals to be resolved.
Write to Leslie Brody at

Bigger than Bridgegate? Christie’s $25 million in no-show Newark school jobs

Christie: You gotta problem with wasting taxpayers' money?
Christie: You gotta problem with wasting taxpayers’ money?
Gov. Chris Christie’s operation of the Newark schools wastes some $25 million a year in public funds to pay teachers who don’t teach–teachers who spend all day in so-called “rubber rooms” or at home, doing nothing to earn the money they are paid. It’s something he’ll never bring up in his presidential campaign trips to Iowa or New Hampshire–but New Jersey’s governor is OK with no-show school jobs in the state’s largest city.

This site has acquired a document, dubbed “Managed Choice,” that lists the names of 402 instructional employees who spend their days doing nothing and getting paid for it because they have lost their positions but cannot be taken off the payroll because most have perfectly good records.  Ninety percent of the instructors are tenured. They are called “educators without placement”–or EWPS. They did not choose to be idle and they hate it–but it was Christie’s decision to put them there.
At a conservative estimate of an average salary of $60,000 per teacher, that represents some $25 million a year in taxpayer funds flushed down the sewer of corruption and ineptitude that is Christie’s control of the Newark schools.  The figure is probably much larger because many of the EWPS teachers are experienced and at the higher end of the pay scale.
The list also does not include the scores of administrators who also have been transformed into “educators without placement”–or EWPS. That would add millions to the money wasted by Christie’s agent in Newark, state-imposed superintendent Cami Anderson.

Anderson’s administration faces a deficit of  at least $57 million this year, a fiscal hole the Glen Ridge resident managed to dig for herself and the Newark schools in her more than three-year tenure. Christie, who constantly praises what a great job Anderson does,  rewarded her wasteful spending and ineptitude this year by giving her another three-year contract. Christie owns the corruption in the Newark school administration. Unlike his claims about Fort Lee and the blockade of the George Washington Bridge, his stubby fingerprints are all over this scandal. He knows about this waste of public funds and he has encouraged it to continue.
One administrator EWP is Tony Motley, the former principal of the Bragaw Avenue School, an institution handed over to a privately-operated charter school chain whose principals have close business and personal ties to Anderson, former state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, and former Mayor Cory Booker, now a United States senator. Motley, a vice president of the union  representing school administrators, was one of five principals removed from their jobs early this year for raising questions about Anderson’s “One Newark” plan. He never got his job back.
A few weeks ago, Motley told me he did “nothing” in his EWPS rubber room at 2 Cedar Street, Anderson’s headquarters. At times, he worked on his doctoral dissertation, he said.
The EWPS list for teachers is dated July 31, 2014. Some of the names may have been removed from that list–others have been added.  Earlier this year, the Newark Teachers Union estimated that at least 300 teachers were EWPs so the number is apparently growing. No precise tally as of this date is available but hundreds of teacher and other school employees, through no personal fault of their own,  are drawing paychecks without working.
The document bears this warning  in, appropriately, red ink: “**Confidential . Internal use ONLY. Please do NOT redistribute** Internal Candidates – Available for Managed Choice.”
Hespe: "Rubber rooms? What a hoot!"
Hespe: “Rubber rooms? What a hoot!

It’s no surprise Anderson would want to keep this list confidential, a secret. It is evidence both of massive waste of public funds and her ineptitude–all on Chris Christie’s watch. Neither he nor his education commissioner, David Hespe, has done anything to stop it. They are complicit.
EWPS are not teachers who have been brought up on tenure charges–or suspended. Most of these educational employees are in good standing. The huge list of unused personnel is a direct result of what Cami Anderson’s backers in the media call her “bold and sensible” reforms–like, for example, so-called “Renew schools.”
Anderson is claiming “Renew schools” are doing well–and The Star-Ledger unquestioningly echoes the boast–but she refuses to release the statistics that would prove her right or wrong. What is known about “Renew” and other “redesigned” schools is that principals willing to back Anderson are given a free hand in firing teachers without cause and sending them to EWPS central. They hire their friends and the people they don’t like go off to rubber rooms and collect salaries without providing educational the services they are capable of doing–and licensed to do.
Worse, Anderson is committed to hiring scores of Teach for America (TFA) graduates–and, indeed, she has been hiring them while sending veteran teachers to EWPs centers. Anderson herself was a TFA executive and the organization supports her goals of closing neighborhood schools and expanding charters.
They can’t be taken off the payroll because they haven’t done anything wrong–they apparently just haven’t struck the fancy of principals who want to “renew” their staffs.
Anderson tried to rid the schools of these teachers last year when she sought to obtain a waiver of lay off procedures from the state education department. Hespe hid the request in his vest pocket, never accepting or rejecting it–but that doesn’t mean he won’t bring the waiver up again.
The expensive transformation of teachers into professional zombies hanging around the Limbos of schools and 2 Cedar Street reveals a pattern that proves it’s part of Anderson’s distorted policies. The dismissal of teachers is not random and is not spread equally among all schools in all wards of the city. Rather, many teachers have been let go from schools in the South, West, and Central Wards that have received the Christie regime’s special attention, while the North and East Wards generally are untouched:
  • Louis Munoz Marin–25
  • William Horton–25
  • West Side–20
  • Weequahic–18
  • Newark Vocational–17
  • Belmont-Runyon-15
  • Speedway–14
  • Barringer Arts and Humanities–13
  • Newark Bridges–13
  • Bragaw–12
  • Louse Spencer–12
  • Madison Street–12
  • Central–12
  • Shabazz–11
  • Roseville–10
  • Flagg–10
The types of teachers assigned to the rubber rooms also reflect what Anderson is doing to disrupt Newark’s neighborhood public schools.  By type of teacher, these are the most likely to lose their positions to “renewal” or “redesign”:
  • Elementary school teachers–90
  • Special education teachers–61
  • Guidance counselors–23
  • Physical education teachers–19
  • Social workers–16
  • Mathematics teachers–15
  • Librarians–13
  • Art teachers–13
  • Technology coordinators–13
Some might also see a pattern in the rate of participation of assistant superintendents in the exiling of teachers to the EWPS gulag. Gary Beidleman presided over the most–with 79, followed by Roger Leon, 59, and Brad Haggerty, 51.
Bros in wasting taxpayer money
Bros in wasting taxpayer money
Anderson’s rubber rooms are only part of the story of how state control cheats Newark’s students and taxpayers from throughout New Jersey. Another side is the failure of Christie’s agent to provide appropriately licensed instructors for Newark’s children. In its next installment, this blog will introduce readers to a teacher who, after spending two years as a EWPS is now teaching outside his license–way outside his license.

'Youps': Newark's expensive, excess school staff
By Joan Whitlow/For The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
on February 26, 2012 at 6:55 AM, updated February 26, 2012
They are called "Employees Without Placement Sites," or EWPS, which is pronounced "youps," which rhymes with "oops," which is unfortunately appropriate.
The Newark school district is paying $8.5 million a year in salaries and benefits to 84 youps: tenured teachers, guidance counselors, social workers and other personnel, including two vice principals and two department chairs, none of whom could get a principal to hire them into the reconstituted public school system.

The 84 are there because of staff reorganizations that began in September, in part, to save $7.9 million for a district with a dwindling student population. With more such changes just announced, we're going to get more youps.

Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson calls it the "excess pool." Those in the pool, she said, must stay on the payroll until they retire or leave for jobs outside the district because of tenure laws and union contract provisions. They aren't just sitting around, she said. They have been assigned to be long-term substitutes, an "extra pair of hands" in special education classes. I've seen a list of those in the pool -- no names, just data -- and most of them have six to 30 years of service which, given salary increments, would make them very expensive teacher aides.

I'd work 'em hard, hard enough to either get some direct benefit for the kids, or work the youps right off the payroll.

I asked the district for an assignment list to show where the youps were working. Haven't got it yet.

There used to be more than 200 in the pool. Most lost jobs because replacing half a school's staff is one of the reform options under the federal School Improvement Grants that seven Newark schools received.

Principals are supposed to interview at least two from the excess pool before hiring anyone else, Anderson said. In many cases, people aren't hired because they don't fit the need -- too many English teachers, too few vacancies in English departments, for instance.

But I hear anecdotes, like the one about the principal who had open jobs and wanted to fill them to help students prepare for the coming round of standardized tests. The principal interviewed two youps and decided it was better to have vacancies than inflict those teachers on the students.
It would be foolish to think all those in the pool are bad teachers. It would be just as foolish to believe there are no bad teachers among those left behind.

Joseph Del Grosso, the Newark Teachers Union president, (pictured above) protested that he's seen the list and that none of the teachers on it has complaints or reviews on file that would trigger tenure charges or disciplinary action.
One of the problems, I've been told, is that principals don't always write up teachers the way they should, because of everything from friendship to a belief that nothing comes of it.

"Don't blame the union," Del Grosso told me.

He said there would be no youps if the district had gone strictly by seniority, letting nontenured teachers go first, then the tenured teachers, based on least seniority. That would have been within tenure law and contract language, and would have avoided creating the pool of tenured jobless that the district must still pay, he asserted.

Yes, but it might also mean good, energetic young teachers would be lost, while teachers who had burned out long ago -- or never had the right stuff -- would be retained.
DelGrosso said, and others also told me, they don't think the use of the youps pool has been well-planned.

Educators in the district pointed out that, since schools have lost reading coaches and tutors to budget cuts, why aren't English teachers (I counted eight) in the pool assigned to fill those slots? Can we put them to work after school? On weekends?

I'm all for reform. I've seen it come and go in Newark, too often with more unintended consequences than good, stable changes. I worry about the next phase of closings and consolidations proceeding, even though no one has done the analysis to tell the results of the first phase, other than youps.
They make excellent poster children for tenure reform, but is that enough educational bang for those 8.5 million bucks?


Los Angeles Teachers Left Without Jobs After a Loophole Appears in Reed v California Settlement

Laid off ‘Reed’ teachers accusing LAUSD of exploiting a loophole


More than three dozen teachers at some of LA Unified’s lower-performing schools say their contracts are not being renewed because of a loophole in settlement of Reed vs. California, a lawsuit that tried to curb high teacher turnover in some of the city’s most challenging schools.
The settlement, made in April 2014, was aimed at addressing inequalities at 37 LA Unified schools identified as those with high teacher turnover and student drop-out rates as well as low statewide test scores.
The loophole, some of the laid off teachers say, is that instead of signing probationary contracts last year, the custom for new teachers joining the district, the Reed school teachers were asked by the district to sign “temporary” employment contracts, which expired on June 30.
Without recognizing the difference, they later learned that the contracts were not being renewed, and the district plans to replace the teachers with displaced teachers from non-Reed schools. Displaced teachers are those who are moved out of their positions by virture of shrinking student population.
Repeated efforts to gain an explanation from the district were unsuccessful. Nor did the LA teachers union, UTLA, respond to a request seeking comment.
Arising out of a 2010 lawsuit that named for plaintiff Sharail Reed, the settlement involved the district, the ACLU and UTLA, and called for more assistant principals, counselors and special education support staff, greater professional development for teachers and administrators and bonuses to retain and recruit principals.
The move surprised some Reed school principals, pushing some to lobby the district to keep the teachers they were going to lose.
“I think if you ask any of the principals, they would say they would have preferred to keep the teachers who were on the temporary contracts,” said James Monroe High School principal Chris Rosas. His North Hills school lost two teachers this summer, and both were trained specifically to teach at “Reed schools.” The incoming replacements will have to be re-trained. “I would love to have kept my teachers,” he said.
The principal didn’t recall that the new teachers were hired with temporary contracts rather than probationary contracts and said he “thought they were safe.”
A principal at another Reed school who asked not to be identified said that school was also losing teachers who did not know they had signed “temporary” contracts.
Meanwhile, LAUSD will replace the “temporary” teachers from among the pool of 800 other displaced teachers, many of whom may not have experience with Reed schools.
“I guess I was an idiot when I signed the temporary contract, I didn’t think much of it at the time,” said Glenn Sacks, a social studies teacher whose contract was not renewed at Monroe High School. He is an experienced teacher, but new to LAUSD. He said he was surprised he got laid off.
“It seems like this is a loophole that the district is using,” Sacks said. “If it doesn’t violate the letter of the law, it certainly violates the spirit of the Reed school agreement.”
Sacks attended special Reed school training that took place over three days during the Spring break. It was a time he also had a huge stack of essays to grade during the holiday.
“I enjoy teaching at the school, I felt like I was having an impact,” he said. “We were teaching children of gardeners, hotel maids and cleaning women from families on the bottom of the economic ladder. Some of the kids did not speak English when they came to the school.”
Sacks said he chose to be at Monroe High. “I felt a challenge to impact those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale,” he said.