Oh boy, did Crain's article on the "Rubber Room" rub me the wrong way. Rance (Crain) did not pursue good journalism in the article in his publication, CRAIN'S New York Business, re-posted below. Rance and I met many years ago at a fund-raising event held for our alma mater, Northwestern University.
First, the "Absent-Teacher-Reserve" is not a "rubber-room". ATRs are tenured teachers who have been put into a substitute teacher position because (1) their school closed; (2) a 3020-a Arbitrator decided not to terminate; (3) a principal or administrator decided to move him/her out for any number of reasons.
A rubber room is what I've studied for 12 years. The "Rubber Room", really 8 rooms or floors set aside in buildings rented by the Department of Education, were warehouses holding tenured and probationary teachers and Assistant Principals who were dumped when someone made an allegation of either misconduct or incompetent service against them. Before I worked for the UFT (2007-2010) and until today, I visited these rooms (all of them) and have spoken to the people placed outside of their tenured positions.
The most outrageous thing is, and something the article does say which is the truth, is that the UFT went along with this denial of rights all these years without a peep. The article below makes me think that in the contract negotiations being held right now behind closed doors, of course, are discussions about the bizarre and embarrassing policy of putting tenured teachers out of their career path without warning and without any rule, regulation or law.
And, for the author of this article to make a nexus between ATRs and "incompetent colleagues lingering on the public dole" is truly an insult to all the fine people I know in the ATR pool.
This is simply bad journalism. So sorry, Rance.
Rubber room must hit the road
More than 1,000 city teachers get full pay, benefits—but don't work.
Attention over the city government's expired labor contracts has focused on how much the new deals will cost taxpayers. To be sure, that is important: The total dollar figure will be in the billions and is certain to exhaust the city's hard-earned surplus.
But settling on an amount might be the easy part. A far more complicated imperative is modernizing the agreements so the city has flexibility to manage its workforce efficiently. The old contracts, which remain in effect, are plagued by obscure rules and worker protections that no longer make sense, if they ever did. They also add expense, leaving less money for wages. In some cases, they sow distrust between labor and management. Both sides stand to benefit from reform.
The poster child for nonsensical job protection is something called the absent-teacher reserve, also known as the "rubber room." It consists of more than 1,000 teachers who
earn full salaries and benefits but lack school assignments. It emerged after the Bloomberg administration in 2005 ended an inane practice by which teachers could claim positions in schools of their choosing by bumping junior colleagues, who would in turn do the same to other co-workers, and so on. (The old "forced placement" system resulted in veteran teachers migrating to the best schools while the least experienced were pushed into the neediest and most dysfunctional.)
The United Federation of Teachers consented to the current system, in which teachers interview for positions and principals hire them—you know, like in the Real World. But the union insisted that tenured teachers be allowed to stay on
the payroll even if no principal wanted them. This cohort grew over time and now sucks up nearly $150 million a year while providing no meaningful instruction. Without financial incentive to seek placement at a school, most of these folks don’t even try.
The de Blasio administration and the UFT must end this madness by limiting the time that unplaced teachers are paid. Unfortunately, tenure is considered a third rail by union leaders. But they ought to realize that their hardworking rank-and-file members have no sympathy for incompetent colleagues lingering on the public dole.
Fixing the absent-teacher reserve would be a breakthrough that leads to others, both in the UFT deal and in the nearly 150 additional expired contracts. It would send a clear signal that logic and the common good, not outdated sinecures for the undeserving, shall carry the city and its workers forward.
A version of this article appears in the March 31, 2014, print issue of Crain's New York Business.