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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Principals In NYC Leave 1,800 Teaching Jobs Open Rather Than Hire Excessed Teachers

August 29, 2009
Amid Hiring Freeze, Principals Leave Jobs Empty

Less than two weeks before the start of school, about 1,800 teaching jobs in New York City remain open as principals appear to be resisting orders to fill vacancies with teachers whose previous positions were eliminated.

Facing steep budget cuts, the Education Department enacted a hiring freeze in the spring, requiring principals with openings to hire teachers who are already on the city’s payroll but who have no permanent position, often because their schools were closed for poor performance.

But many principals prefer new teachers. So in an act of quiet defiance, they are allowing jobs to sit vacant, leading to one of the most difficult hiring seasons in recent history despite the large number of vacancies and the thousands of candidates who could fill them.

Teachers who lost their old posts are frustrated about the scarcity of job offers. New teachers who cannot get hired are furious after upending their lives to begin careers they must now delay. And principals are upset that after years of choosing their work force, their options are being drastically limited.

“The picture out there is not pretty,” said Jemina R. Bernard, who directs the New York office of Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-performing schools. Fewer than half of the recruits this year have landed jobs in city schools; by this time last year, 90 percent had.

The openings represent about 2 percent of the city’s teaching payroll, and officials expect that some will be filled before Sept. 9, the first day of school. But a number of schools may end up with larger classes or have to temporarily stop offering a subject.

For years, a teacher whose job was eliminated because of declining enrollment, budget cuts or school closings had the right to “bump” a teacher with less seniority out of a job at another school. But in 2005 the city and the teachers’ union agreed to give principals the right to choose whom to hire.

As Chancellor Joel I. Klein moved aggressively to close poor-performing schools, more teachers found their positions eliminated. And principals tended to hire younger, newer teachers because they were cheaper and did not carry the stigma of having come from a failing school.

So many of the older teachers, who were guaranteed full salaries and benefits, wound up in the so-called absent teacher reserve pool, usually working as substitutes. There are now 1,983 teachers in the pool, earning more than $200 million a year in pay and benefits.

Mr. Klein has suggested that those who do not find jobs quickly are undesirable, or that they have stopped looking. But now the chancellor, who has given more autonomy to school leaders and encouraged the recruitment of new teachers from nontraditional backgrounds, is trying to coax principals to hire from within.

“The economics are that you have to do this,” Mr. Klein said. “But I think everybody, starting with me, knows that this is not the ideal in any way, shape or form.”

With the teachers’ contract up for renewal this fall, Mr. Klein said he would push for a limit on how long teachers could stay in the reserve pool before they could be laid off. But an arbitration board has rejected such a limit.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, said that the Education Department had not made a great enough effort to place teachers and that Mr. Klein had unfairly maligned them, making it even harder for them to find jobs. And, Mr. Mulgrew said, principals are reluctant to take on their higher salaries.

About a third of the nearly 2,000 teachers who lost their posts in June have found a job this summer. Some new teachers have landed jobs in specialized areas, like special education and the sciences, in which Mr. Klein has made an exception to the hiring freeze.

But more than 300 teachers have been in the pool for more than a year, and about 150 for more than two years. To entice principals to hire teachers who have been in the pool the longest, Mr. Klein has offered to pay part of their salaries from his central budget for up to eight years.

Several principals — who did not want their names published for fear of angering the administration or the teachers’ union — said they were circumventing the restrictions by offering new teachers jobs as long-term substitutes or hiring them as specialized teachers but placing them in regular classrooms. Some said they planned to eliminate open positions from their budgets rather than take on teachers they considered undesirable, and others said they were holding out in the hope that Mr. Klein would lift the restrictions.

Valerie Hamilton-Roux, 45, who was a reading specialist at Public School 201 in Harlem until it was closed last year, said she had been little more than a “glorified sub” since then. In the last several months, she has attended job fairs and sent out more than a hundred résumés to schools, she said.

“I want to work and be useful, not just a placeholder,” she said. “Whether I don’t say what the principals want to hear or whether they’re skeptical because I haven’t been in the classroom for a year, I don’t know. It’s getting harder to not have sleepless nights.”

Krystel Martinez, 27, also cannot find work. She left a job at Sony Music to enter the Teaching Fellows program, which recruits people without classroom experience to teach while earning a master’s degree in education.

“Why did they go ahead and bring us if there were no jobs for us to have?” Ms. Martinez said. “Some people are losing motivation, but we’re all concerned about having a roof over our heads.”

During a job fair on Wednesday in a clubhouse bar at the Mets’ stadium, Citi Field, principals sat behind small cocktail tables, with lines of job seekers snaking through the hall. Hundreds of candidates stood in line for a chance at one of two jobs at East Bronx Academy for the Future. The principal, Sarah Scrogin, said she had received very few applications from teachers who had been in the reserve pool for an extended time. And like others, she found several candidates whom she would be happy to hire but cannot because of the freeze.

“This should be a time when we are really picky,” Ms. Scrogin said. “The last thing you want to do is bring somebody on who you will regret later.”