Monday, April 28, 2014


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 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 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 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 New York State that have 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 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 Jamaica High School: a closing school.  My anecdotal numbers on ATR hiring are mostly based on Jamaica 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 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 fiefdoms  schools.

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.


Anonymous said...

Big question: What is the status of PERB right now? I thought the UFT/DOE went to PERB for the current round of negotiations? If the UFT/DOE are meeting "behind closed doors" where is PERB in all of this? Thanks for any info.

James Eterno said...

The answer to your question is in a March statement from the UFT:

Contract negotiations between the UFT and the DOE resume.

The UFT has begun meeting regularly with the Department of Education in an effort to reach a new contract for teachers and other UFT-represented DOE employees. The two sides met last weekend and again on Wednesday and today (Friday), with Martin F. Scheinman, the arbitrator who is the neutral chair of the fact-finding panel, serving as mediator. Our 300-member rank-and-file negotiating committee met on Thursday. No settlement is imminent, but we are making headway now that we have someone across the table that is serious about getting to a deal. Our goal remains to have a new contract ratified and in place by the end of June. Contract negotiations are never conducted in public. When a tentative agreement is reached, it will go before members in a ratification vote.

Anonymous said...

I recall a discussion about the facts of PERB possible being foilable after a contract has been reached. I would like know EXACTLY what the UFT put on the table and I would like to know EXACTLY what the DOE put on the table.

Anonymous said...

Letting ATRs decide where to teach makes so much sense which is why it is dead on arrival with Farina and the UFT.

Zajacland said...

Well stated with a lucid recap of events and workable plan for the future. One problem is that the wish lists would look strikingly similar and all ATRs would be opting for schools like Harris, Murrow, Lewis, etc. I can't see anyone longing to go to schools like MAST after having experienced a week there. Schools themselves should be allowed to publish wish lists for the types of teachers they would welcome and perhaps matches could be arranged to satisfy most parties.

John Lawhead said...

James, this is a really useful analysis. I would just add, and I hope it's part of the negotiations, that any teacher prevailing against charges at a termination hearing should be able to return to his or her school, if they wish. What reason to do otherwise? The principal's comfort? To allow for punishment without proving allegations makes principal less accountable for how they run the schools.

Gladys Sotomayor said...

The idea of a wish list is so smart! After having served in the ATR pool last academic year and now this academic year we ATRs can pretty much know which schools are lead by true instructional leaders.

Gladys Sotomayor said...

James Eterno's article is so informative and wise. I hope De Blasio and Farina take note.

Anonymous said...

Well written and a great solution to the ATR issue. Hopefully both the UFT and DOE will take note and end this demoralizing situation.

Ibeth said...

Great solution to ATR issue James....I was a former ATR and looking for a permanent
position it was very difficult for me....being in the system for 14 years and principals now just want to hire new teachers (cheap and no tenure) ...I can only imagine how worst it is for an ATR that have over 14 yrs. in the system.... And sadly to say that the hiring system for teachers is so corrupt .....The only reason I got a permenant position is because I new someone in the school already that reccomened me to the principal....I REALLY GOT LUCKY! it's all about political games ...and we the teachers are not getting treated fairly.

Anonymous said...

We can all thank the miserable miser mikey bloomberg for this mess. This master mizer created this so called atr crap - mikey bloomcrap also failed to give the teachers any raises and left us educators with our tails between our legs...This guy was always a real piece of crap and seems to have done irreparable harm to our livelihoods which is a crying shame but only hoping that karma will wipe mike bloomscraps off the face of the earth

Anonymous said...

I agree, the ATR pool was created by bloomberg and his cronie klein. He created the ATR pool because bloomberg does not believe any workers should have lives or be compensated with nothing more than food and water. The newbie teachers are cheap inexpensive labor and that is what drives the bloomberg machine so when he came to NYC he instilled a labor mentality of cheap is better but we all know that cheap is cheap and you always get what you pay for

Anonymous said...

In the NYPD a regular street cop cannot become a sergeant or detective without experience and the passing of an exam. How is it that people are becoming assistant principals and principals with minimal or no education experience?? The NYPD would NEVER allow that to happen

Anonymous said...

I've been a ATR since September 2013. My trip into the ATR pool began three years prior and ended with a 3020a for incompetent. Never mind that my passing rate on the American History Regents was 98%. My entire story is on my blog
The ATR pool is an embarrassment to the field of education most of the people I've met in the ATR pool are highly competent and ready to teach

Anonymous said...

This is 100% percent -atrs cannot be force placed - but I do see a problem that we will all request the same schools and that must be addressed. There are so many schools that we would all be miserable in - and yes MAST is number 1 but there are many many many close runner -ups! Being an ATR has been the worst experience ever and I tell everyone to leave teaching ASAP. Thanks James for your work - as usual you are the best!!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your compelling, thoughtful article. It is so well-put.

You mentioned the WSJ article and the proposals to cut ATRs loose. Speaking of what to do with excessed teachers, you'd probably find it useful reading to take a look at this site PDQ Blog, notwithstanding that it is pitched to the "Teacher Quality" crowd, it contains details on trends elsewhere. While it is almost taken in the conventional wisdom as a given that cutting teachers loose in fact the eventual dismissal approach is used only with a small minority of school districts.

Anonymous said...

I am an ATR that had a temporary job. I was told at the end of a year and a half that there was no money in the budget and how sorry they were to lose me. Within two weeks, a new and age 23 year old young lady was brought into the department and school. We must not me force placed into the schools because we have the "birds eye view" into what is really going on at schools. Some of these establishments are NOT schools.
James, thank you for always devoting time to so many of us. You give us a voice!

Anonymous said...

ATR's need to have a say in placement for next year. It would be totally unfair just to force place us, possibly out of our district. We have a right to determine which school/location to be working.

lorraine engel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

If one retires in 2015 will the teacher also get both retro percent raises 4% factored into the FAS at the point, or ever?

lisa Hertz said...

I am currently an ATR in Staten Island. I became an ATR due to unfortunate circumstances. Last year I was a teacher at a school for the year and did a great job, however, that principal hired 2 teachers for my one salary. As long as principals have to pay our salaries it will be hard to obtain a permanent position. I only have 15 years in the system and have been an ATR for 2 years. This year I have been at a school all year too and recently found out that I will not be hired permanently for September. This is due to the fact that there are too much nepotism on Staten Island. The expression " Its who you know not what you know" is definitely valid in my situation.
I like the idea of ATRs being placed into a school that they have a desire to work and hopefully a chance to become appointed. I live in Staten Island and would prefer not to be forced to work outside of the borough.

James Eterno said...

Lisa- You must then vote no on the contract and send them back to fix this.

Anonymous said...

Except the prospsed contract says she will placed in a school with a vacancy. Why should she vote no?

James Eterno said...

Forced placed!