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Saturday, August 19, 2017

UFT and DOE Approve Forced Placements For ATRs in October

The new policy of forcing teachers (and Guidance Counselors?) into vacancies in October is not going to work.

Despite what the deformers think about ATRs, most ATRs are the best in the business, wrongfully accused of misconduct or incompetency by Principals who themselves did something wrong, or don't like the employee for any number of reasons, including that they are too expensive.

Although principals will not have to pay the entire salary the first two years, this is just enough time to get two ineffectives on the ATRs' records, and send them into a 3020-a or 3012-c arbitration. The principal has to pay it after the two years. There is going to be angst in the administration because the $100,000 salary could easily hire two or even three newbies without such a high salary. It's a budget problem which has been left out of the mix after the two years. Without senior transfers, the only way to remove a tenured employee is to charge him/her with enough charges of misconduct, neglect of duty, unprofessional behavior, etc., so that something will stick, and the employee can be sent to a 3020-a for termination.

Randy Asher, in charge of moving ATRs to vacancies
The UFT and the DOE are very cunning. They made principals responsible for their school budgets, then do not put the ATRs' salary into a pool so that the school doesn't have to pay all of the salary if the ATR is terrific and wonderful, and should be given the effective/highly effective ratings that he/she deserve. But won't be. Principals are not given any incentive to hire one expensive, senior teacher who knows what to do to have kids learn as opposed to several less experienced employees who are not as skilled, but so what?  The budget trumps any other worries. Grades and exam scores can always be changed, violence in the school can be covered up, etc.

And now that the school system rates teachers on performance using the Danielson rubric, anyone can be charged with incompetency and found guilty - if the proper defense is not present at a 3020-a teacher trial. It is horribly easy to charge anyone in New York City with crimes that they never committed. In a 3012-c hearing, the employee is guilty when he/she walks in the door, and must prove that the charges are false in order to not be terminated.

What may happen is that principals will rate the  ATR ineffective at the end of the year, and legal will charge the ATR with incompetency under 3012-c, and before you can blink, the employee charged will be terminated. The principal of course will testify that the motive behind charging the ATR is the employee's malfeasance, and not the budgetary burden of the ATR's salary. But the argument must be made by the charged employee's defenders that it is the money, not the skills or lack of skill of the ATR which caused the charges to be filed.

The deBlasio administration is in the same position as Mike Bloomberg in 2010, when media made a big issue of the $ millions spent on UFT members sitting in rubber rooms doing nothing. The uproar caused Mike Mulgrew and Mike Bloomberg to close the rubber rooms. Not.

What they actually did was close the big warehouses (8 of them, of various sizes) and hide the re-assigned UFT/CSA members and Guidance Counselors  in many different locations and in small areas of offices. The hearings were sped up, more arbitrators were hired, and the media lay off of the money issue for a while. Now the same issue pops up again. It doesn't have to be this way, but there is no political will to come up with some really good human resources strategy which could benefit the children and the employees as well as take care of the thorny issue of the budget. We can send someone to the moon, but we cannot handle human beings on earth properly.

So here we go again.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials                                                                                                                                                               

NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina and NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio

City Will Move Sidelined Teachers From Limbo to Classrooms

For a dozen years, hundreds of New York City teachers have been paid despite not having permanent jobs, sidelined in most cases because of disciplinary problems or bad teaching records or because they had worked in poorly performing schools that were closed or where enrollment declined.

This limbo was largely the result of a deal that the Bloomberg administration struck with the teachers’ union to give principals more control over who worked in their schools. Under the deal, teachers could not simply be fired, so they were put in a pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

But now, saying the city cannot afford expenditures like the $150 million it spent on salaries and benefits for those in the reserve in the last school year, the education department plans to place roughly 400 teachers inclassrooms full time, possibly permanently. They will be placed in schools that still have jobs unfilled by mid-October. Principals will have little, if any, say in the placements. Neither will the teachers.

The department, which announced the plan in July, has in the past deflected questions about the makeup of the pool. But on Friday, it released some data. Of the 822 teachers in the reserve at the end of the last school year, 25 percent had also been in it five years earlier. Nearly half had been in it at the end of the 2014-15 school year. The average salary was $94,000 a year, $10,000 more than the average salary of teachers across the school system.

Close to a third of the teachers in the pool were there because they had faced legal or disciplinary charges. Others worked in schools that were closed for poor performance or lost their jobs because of declining enrollments. Twelve percent had received the lowest possible ratings of effectiveness in the 2015-16 school year; only 1 percent of all teachers in the system scored so low.

With the beginning of the school year weeks away, principals and others who work in education are wary.

Harry Sherman, the principal of Junior High School 127, Castle Hill Middle School, in the Bronx, said that while some teachers in the pool, often referred to as A.T.R.s, are unfairly stigmatized, “There are also A.T.R.s who are A.T.R.s because we have had the choice of whether or not we want to take them. And sometimes those people are not good fits for schools.”

Daniel Weisberg, the chief executive officer of the New Teacher Project, who worked for the Education Department under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said: “We’ve got this group of teachers who either can’t find a job or won’t find a job. That’s the group we’re dealing with.”

Education experts are worried that a disproportionate number of the teachers will be placed in schools in poorer areas, like the South Bronx, which have difficulty attracting and retaining teachers. Some may be placed in schools in the Renewal Schools program, one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature education initiatives, which is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to turn around low-performing schools.

The principal of a high school in Manhattan, who did not want to be named out of fear of reprisal from supervisors in the department, was blunt about the effect: “You’re going to force the worst teachers in the system into the schools that are struggling the most.”

But the city described the plan as a “common-sense solution” to the problems of both vacancies and the cost of paying unassigned teachers.

“My role is to drive down the A.T.R. and to help take these resources and put them back in schools,” said Randy Asher, the senior adviser to the chancellor for talent management and innovation, and the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School.

The number of teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve increased dramatically after the deal made in 2005 by the Bloomberg administration, which was seeking to close failing schools, and the United Federation of Teachers. Before then, teachers with seniority could claim whatever job they wanted, displacing novice teachers without so much as having to interview with a principal. And teachers without assignments were involuntarily placed in whatever positions were open.

The deal ended that system and let principals decide whom to hire. Teachers who could not find jobs or were not happy with ones available went into the A.T.R., at full salary.

Reserve teachers do monthlong rotations in schools, frequently serving as substitutes, and some get longer temporary assignments. In the last few years, the department has offered principals incentives to hire teachers from the pool by picking up all or part of their salaries for the first two or three years. It has also offered teachers in the pool buyouts. As result, on the first day of school last year — traditionally the point in the year when the pool is largest — there were 1,494 teachers in the pool, down from 1,957 on the first day of school in 2013.

The department says the new policy of placing teachers in vacancies is expected to reduce the size of the pool by half.

In interviews, Mr. Asher and Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers’ union, used similar language to defend the plan, saying that it was better for students to have a permanent teacher with the appropriate license than to have a rotation of substitutes.
Michael Mulgrew, UFT President

“We’re talking about being five, six weeks into the semester where they still don’t have a permanent teacher,” Mr. Asher said. “We need to provide stability in these learning environments.”

Mr. Mulgrew said, “What we’re trying to do is give a more stable educational environment for the students.”

A recently retired principal of a school in a hard-to-staff district disputed the idea that putting any teacher into a vacancy was better than other possible solutions. “I have had over the past five years a lot of A.T.R.s come in,” said the principal, who spoke anonymously for fear of repercussions for the school. “And I have to say, less than 10 percent of them — way less, maybe 5 percent of them — would I hire.”

Lynette Guastaferro, the executive director of Teaching Matters, said that in high-poverty schools, it was particularly important that principals be able to choose teachers carefully.

“Kids living in poverty need schools led by strong teams with shared cultures and the best teaching possible,” she wrote in an email.

Principals who are forced to take the teachers will observe them over the course of the year. Teachers who earn an “effective” rating from the principal at the end of the year will then, in most cases, be placed in their positions permanently.

Asked what would happen to teachers who at the end of the year received a less than effective rating, Mr. Asher said the department would, in some cases, start the legal process to remove them.

Nicholas Weber, a special-education teacher who has been in the Absent Teacher Reserve for three years after losing his job at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers because of declining enrollment, said he thought the policy would motivate principals to give bad ratings to teachers so as to not have to hire them permanently.

“It questions the legitimacy of the ratings,” he said.

Mr. Weisberg, who helped negotiate the 2005 deal when he was at the Education Department, said that one problem with the new policy was that once principals can no longer choose their teachers, it becomes harder to hold them accountable for their schools’ performance.

“The idea that principals get final say over which teachers get selected to work in their buildings should not be thought of as a crazy radical notion,” he said. “This is common sense.”


Statement on High Cost of DOE's Absent Teacher Reserve Program 

New York, NY – Families for Excellent Schools' CEO Jeremiah Kittredge released the following statement on the high cost of the New York City Department of Education's Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) program. During the 2016-2017 school year, this program cost more than $150 million. 

Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO, Families for Excellent Schools:
“Spending more than $150 million to force bad teachers into classrooms is inexcusable, plain and simple. This money could pay for programs that actually help New York City's children, but unfortunately Mayor de Blasio is more concerned with the UFT’s priorities than he is with student achievement.”
As the below analysis shows, the funds spent on ATR could've instead gone towards a wide variety of initiatives that benefit city students. 

What Could DOE Buy With $151.6 Million? Possibilities Stifled By the Absent Teacher Reserve

Currently 822 teachers make up NYC’s Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), and the city announced it will place nearly half of these unassigned teachers into vacant positions this fall (1). Previously the city offered an incentive system to encourage schools to hire from the ATR -- but come October 15, vacant positions will be filled using ATR teachers with or without school principal consent (2).

This change is ostensibly aimed at reducing the high costs of maintaining the ATR, which previously hovered around $100 million per year but climbed to a staggering $151.6 million in salary and fringe benefits during the 2016-17 school year (3).  A review of high-value, high-cost DOE expenditure items reveals what this money could instead accomplish if DOE didn’t spend it on teachers who aren’t even teaching and might ultimately never teach again.

If DOE hadn’t spent $151.6 million on the ATR last year, the City could have sent that money to:

  • Almost double the footprint of the Mayor’s newest initiative aimed at New York City’s youngest learners: 3K For All. Currently, 3K For All has a budget of  $177 million and will only serve one quarter of NYC school districts this fall. With a dramatic infusion of cash, the 3K For All budget would nearly double and could potentially double the number of districts served (4).

  • Allocate enough additional capital funding to construct between two and six brand new schools. NYC School Construction Authority currently lists 8 new school projects in construction, with an average cost of $66.5 million. ATR spending could fund nearly 3 new buildings (5).

  • More than triple the $47 million pledged to support the expansion of school climate resources and mental health programs. NYC DOE plans to increase student safety with additional training on “restorative practices, de-escalation techniques and crisis intervention procedures (6)."

  • Quintuple city funding and support services for homeless students. DOE pledged $30 million in April 2016 to aid homeless students, $10.3 million of which was on the chopping block during the preliminary budget process. DOE’s wasted ATR expenditure could have funded this near-shortfall -- earmarked to hire social workers and create literacy programs in homeless shelters -- nearly 15 times over (7).

  • Ensure every kid who wants a school lunch, can have a lunch. Feeding hungry students is a no-brainer and enjoys broad political support across the five boroughs. Expanding the universal free lunch program to students citywide would cost a fraction of ATR spending. Pricetag? $20.25 million (8).

  • Save millions in salary spending next year at schools that will be forced to staff former ATR teachers due to DOE’s recent policy change. Last fall the average ATR teacher received $94,000 in salary while the base salary for a city teacher was just $54,000. These high-salaried former ATR teachers are poised to take a massive bite out of budgets at the schools where DOE is about to force them on principals who don’t want to staff them in the first place -- and all of this money could instead be spent on resources principals know they actually need (9).

(4) Mayor de Blasio Announces 3-K for All.” The Official Website of the City of New York. 24 April 2017
(5) Data collected by NYC Open Data and reported by School Construction Authority. FES identified three new school buildings currently in development at pricetags ranging from $27.6 million to $98.8 million.
(6)“ Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner O'Neill and Chancellor FariƱa Announce Safest School Year on Record.” The Official Website of the City of New York, 1 August 2017.
(7)Shapiro, Eliza. “$10M to support homeless students omitted from de Blasio's preliminary budget proposal.” Politico New York. 24 January 2017
(8) Durkin, Erin. “City borough presidents want Mayor de Blasio to push for free public school lunches.” NY Daily News. 17 April 2017