I am not letting out any negotiating details here but I would like to comment on a recent piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on AbsentTeacher Reserves. My purpose here is also to propose a realistic method to place ATRs and if readers like it, consider taking it to the UFT.
The tone of the Journal article seems to favor putting a time limit on how long someone can stay in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool without a permanent position before he/she is terminated. This issue has been raised in contract negotiations and in the State Legislature on three separate occasions in the last decade and the city lost each time it attempted to fire tenured personnel without due process. I want to believe the new Mayor and Chancellor would rather move on and discuss the best way to place the ATRs and not how to get rid of us (I will be an ATR at the end of June).
UFT members and assistant principals become ATRs because their schools are closed or downsized or they win in a dismissal hearing after the DOE tries to fire them. The huge growth of the ATR pool was created by the 2005 UFT contract which stopped preferred placement for teachers when schools were closed or automatic placement if a program was downsized. Instead of being placed, teachers and other UFT titles now become highly paid substitutes (ATRs) until a school principal accepts them. ATRs stayed in a single school from year to year until 2011 but since that time they have been forced to accept weekly rotation to different schools as per an agreement between the city and UFT that avoided teacher layoffs.
As I am a Chapter Leader of a closing school, I constantly receive emails, texts and phone calls whenever an anti-teacher publication like the Wall Street Journal writes a new fantasy piece saying a time limit for ATRs to find a new job or be fired is up for consideration at the negotiating table or should be on the table. Here is my response:
No viable union leadership, not even the UFT's who I often disagree with, would allow layoffs (which is essentially what a time limit for ATRs would be) to be determined based on whose place of employment (school) was closed or downsized or who beat dismissal charges.
The anti-teacher/anti-union press and organizations that want to privatize public education and break the UFT completely keep bringing the ATR issue up because they want to turn teaching into a job where teachers can be fired at will without any need for cause. They have been unsuccessful in
The UFT contract has gone to non-binding fact finding arbitration as per state law on four occasions including now. One such arbitration panel proposed a settlement for the 2005 contract that the UFT for some inexplicable reason agreed was reasonable.
The 2005 arbitrators gave the city much of what it wanted including a longer school day, a longer school year, the end of a UFT member's right to file a grievance on a disciplinary letter for file based on its fairness or accuracy, the return of teachers to involuntary cafeteria and hall duty, weaker due process, an end to seniority and school based option transfers, an end to preferred placement for UFT members if a school was closed, an end to guaranteed placement if someone was placed in excess and more givebacks.
However after just about conceding the entire store to the city, the arbitrators specifically rejected the city's proposal to have a time limit for people placed in excess to find a new job or be terminated. Here is the actual language from 2005:
"Fourth, the City/DOE has recommended that an excessed teacher who does not find a new position within 18 months of being excessed be terminated from the system. We specifically reject this proposal." (page 45; 2005 Fact Finding Report, bold added by me)
Since the Chancellor at the time, Joel Klein, believed that principals should be the sole judges as to who works in their schools, preferred placement for people from closing schools, a part of the previous contract, was ended and instead people in excess had to spruce up their resumes and look for a job. If they were not successful, they became Absent Teacher Reserves.
ATR status is an indignity that to my knowledge is exclusive to educators. It is only UFT members and assistant principals among public employees in
When firehouses close, do the firefighters have to knock on other fire house doors to find a new position?
When there are corruption problems and the NYPD cleans out entire precincts, do the clean cops, who just happened to work where there were major issues, have to go to other captains with their resumes to find a job?
It is only the educators.
In 2006 Joel Klein took a second bite at the firing the ATRs apple in contract negotiations. This time Klein and the UFT agreed to a voluntary buyout proposal for ATRs but he never offered much of a buyout so it never happened.
Then, former Mayor Bloomberg knew he wouldn't get anywhere at the bargaining table, as the issue was resolved twice in contract negotiations, so he tried to go to Albany in 2011 to change civil service law since New York State law uses reverse seniority for layoffs and time limits for ATRs would violate the law. At that time Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver refused to allow a bill to change reverse seniority layoffs for NYC teachers to come to the Assembly floor. It was dead on arrival. That's three failed bites at the firing the excessed teachers apple for the city.
What has changed since then? If anything, the political tide has moved more in labor's favor with the election of a more union friendly mayor.
In addition, it must be pointed out how even though UFT leaders might not be the greatest union officials on the planet, they are not stupid. In Chicago and DC where teacher unions agreed to put a time limit on teachers to find a job after a school was closed or downsized, those union leaders ended up being defeated in subsequent elections.
The Murdoch publications (Wall Street Journal-NY Post), the Daily News, Chalkbeat, Campbell Brown, and all of the astro-turf organizations that hate public schools and unions can waste another ton of paper and lots of internet bandwidth saying how we need to fire teachers who can't get a principal to agree to hire them but can anyone see any circumstances where teachers would ever agree to such conditions?
If the new mayor and his team are going to take a fourth bite at the firing the ATR apple as the Journal reported former Mayor Bloomberg was trying to do in fact finding, it would be a huge insult to teachers and unions. We hope that the current Mayor and Chancellor are more enlightened and will move in another direction.
Seniority rights are a basic union principle. If the DOE wants to terminate a tenured teacher, they have to go through the legally mandated 3020A process, which still exists although it certainly is weaker under the new teacher evaluation law.
The only question that should be on the table now is how to get the ATRs back in the classroom.
As most readers of this blog know, I come from
I only know of about four or five teachers who were hired permanently from the ATR pool in the last couple of years. Everyone else found a provisional position to cover a vacancy/replace someone who went on a leave or they were not hired. A few of the provisional hires were kept but many were not and are back in the ATR pool. I know of no senior ATRS with over 20 years in the system, whose schools were closed, who have found a permanent job in another school.
Principals were offered generous subsidies to accept ATRs permanently (they only had to pay half of a beginning teacher salary for eight years from their budgets) in a 2008 ATR Agreement between the DOE and UFT but it did not eliminate the ATR pool. I do not agree that if they change funding to go back to charging principals an average of all of a district's teachers that it will eliminate the ATR pool as some people are hoping. The 2008 subsidies didn't work because many principals do not want too many senior people in their schools, regardless of cost.
If a principal were to hire someone like me with twenty-eight years experience, I would take my rightful place on the school's seniority list and probably be one of the senior people in that school in the Social Studies Department. If that school then was downsized due to decreased enrollments or there was a budget cut (always a possibility), the Principal would be stuck with me and have to place into excess a newer teacher. I understand why principals would want to protect their junior people who will more than likely not be tenured and can be made to do whatever administration wants (for example pass every student) as opposed to someone like me who might have some problems with that.
Senior educators who can retire within a few years provide a good check on excessive administrator behavior and should be seen as valuable integrity people who can blow the whistle on wrongdoing without fear of reprisal. I understand how we could be seen as dangerous to certain principals who want to play with statistics to make themselves look good. Schools will need substantial incentives to hire educators who could be seen as a threat to principal power over their
Just as Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, seniority is the worst method to base hiring/layoff decisions except for all the others. We have no meritocracy in the school system so basing hiring/firing solely on administrator judgment would not improve education. On the contrary, it would make it worse as nobody would be able to speak out against terrible practices for fear of losing their paycheck.
It would complete the bridge to the 19th Century that those who wish to privatize education want. Back then, hiring and firing was based on patronage in public service. Anyone who thinks that a better system would emerge should read up on government jobs before the 1883 PendletonAct was passed to find out how politics intruding on hiring in the public sector is a bad idea.
The best way to get the ATRs back in the classroom this fall would be to make hiring decisions for people from closing schools (and other ATRs) in a similar manner to the way it was done before the horrific 2005 contract. Back then teachers were given placement choices within the widest range possible by the Board of Education if a school was closed or reorganized (old Contractual Article 18G). Senior teachers were not seen as ogres who caused schools to shut down in those days.
A teacher was given a wish-list of six schools and then was sent to one of them. Since some principals are reluctant to take veteran teachers in the current educational climate because we may talk too much, there would have to be a deal reached to influence some of them to accept ATRs.
The DOE should give ATRs the six school wish-list but instead of sticking ATRs on principals and making them pay on the school budget, the DOE should pay for ATRs centrally for their entire salary for as long as necessary (maybe up to a decade) when an ATR is placed in a school. A principal would not be charged a dime from the school's budget. There would be no extra charge for the city taxpayers either as it's just a matter of paying for people on a central budget-line as opposed to a school budget-line. Any subsequent downsizing caused by budget cuts or declining enrollments would be neutralized by this real subsidy. ATR's could be used to lower class sizes and guidance caseloads, a not so novel idea.
Under this plan, no ATR who had an ounce of sense would apply for a school that had a vicious anti-teacher principal unless they didn't do homework on schools. (Yes I know principal turnover is high but at least ATRs could start out at places where they want to be.)
The 2011 policy, still in effect, of forcing ATRs go to a different school every week as highly compensated substitute teachers makes no sense and is a complete waste of resources.
Other proposed ATR solutions that keep provisional hiring going - a teacher stays at a school for a year and then can leave or be sent back to the ATR pool by a principal or yearly substitute rotations - will just keep a class of teachers going around from school to school for decades until the last ones retire. Why not just end it now?
If someone is so bad, document it and use the 3020A process. Principals could even make someone a co-teacher, as the ATR would not cost them any money, if they are seriously concerned about damage done to children by a specific ATR. Administrators would actually have more control than they have now as ATRs are sent weekly to different schools to cover classes and principals must accept a different set of ATRs each week.
Maybe I am totally overestimating UFT leadership, but I do not see the UFT selling out the ATRs under any circumstances. UFT leadership has said in public that we could have had a contract long ago if we were willing to sell out the ATRs.
If Mayor Bill de Blasio is serious about not wanting to close schools, then the ATR pool will slowly wither away in the next few years so why not just put ATRs in schools where they have some desire to work and have the central Board of Ed, not individual schools, pick up the entire cost? If anyone has a better idea, I'm listening.