Even though I am on the UFT's 300 person Contract Negotiating Committee, I
have no, repeat no, inside information to share on what is going on in the
day-to-day negotiations between the UFT and the city and the Board of Education
(AKA the Department of Education or DOE). Negotiations are conducted
behind closed doors between top union, city and DOE officials. The
Committee is updated regularly and told to keep things confidential.
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
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
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 New York
for a decade
but it does not mean they will give up. The fact that the media continues
to try to make firing ATRs without due process an issue, when in my
opinion it has virtually no chance of becoming a reality, shows how far
journalism has descended these days when it comes to education.
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
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."
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
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 New York
to pound the pavement to find a new job after their place of work
closes or is downsized.
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
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
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
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 Jamaica High School
closing school. My anecdotal numbers on ATR hiring are mostly based
and also come from friends from other closing schools.
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
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
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
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
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.