A restaffing plan for two of the city’s lowest-performing schools is facing scrutiny by state officials who want to see drastic changes at the schools and from critics who worry that the plan could trip up other schools by sending them teachers who are displaced by the reshuffling.
Hashed out by the city and the teachers and principals unions this month, the plan will force the roughly 130 teachers and administrators at the long-struggling Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Automotive High School in Williamsburg to reapply for their jobs next year. Joint city-union hiring committees at each school will screen the applicants.
During a radio interview Sunday, State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch commended the city and unions for creating the plan, which followed state orders to replace “ineffective” staffers at each school. But she also suggested that the state will not be satisfied unless it leads to a significant shakeup at the schools.
“If at the end of the day, all we get from this is two teachers who were going to retire anyhow retiring, we’re not going to have much change in that school building,” she said on a radio program hosted by John Catsimatidis. “If we do not see movement on these schools, these lowest-performing schools, on their ability to retool their workforce by the spring, we will move to close them,” she added.
The 12-member hiring committees — which will include six representatives or appointees of the teachers union, four from the principals union, and two from the city — can rehire or reject as many of the schools’ current teachers as they choose. City education officials insist that the plan has the potential to transform the two schools and could become a model for other troubled schools.
They note that the two schools have more hiring flexibility under the new plan than they would have if the city had decided to close and replace them. The teachers contract stipulates that when schools are closed, the replacement schools must hire qualified senior teachers from the shuttered schools to fill at least half of their teaching positions. The new arrangement, however, does not force the two schools to rehire any teachers or to consider seniority, which officials say will empower the hiring committees.
“The strong agreement reached with the state to drastically change the staffing at Boys and Girls and Automotive is a vital step to deliver the strong public schools each neighborhood deserves,” said department spokeswoman Devora Kaye.
In response to Tisch’s comments, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew questioned why the state did not insist on major changes at the schools sooner.
“It’s a shame the state Board of Regents or its Chancellor didn’t demand action during all the years the Bloomberg administration was running these schools into the ground,” Mulgrew said in a statement.
As officials debate whether the rehiring plan will do enough to help the two troubled high schools, some critics have questioned how the plan will affect other schools.
Boys and Girls and Automotive teachers who are not rehired and don’t find new jobs will be assigned to other Brooklyn high schools with openings, where they will remain for one year unless the city and union jointly agree to remove them. The teachers will go through that placement process annually until 2021, unless they find a permanent position before then. The city will also find new placements for administrators who are not rehired.
Typically, teachers who lose their positions because of declining enrollments or school closures and cannot find new jobs enter the Absent Teacher Reserve, where the city pays their salaries and finds them temporary placements. Under the new teachers contract that was ratified this June, the city sends those educators to schools with job openings, but principals are allowed to send them back.
But the reassignment plan for teachers from the two troubled schools does not give principals that option. Instead, if principals want to remove teachers they are sent, a superintendent and a teachers union official must first agree to the removal and to a new placement.
Critics say that process resembles the so-called “forced placement” policy of a decade ago, where the city assigned displaced teachers to schools that had openings without the input of the teachers or principals.
“Our real concern is that if you force a person on a school, it makes it more difficult for a principal to build the culture they want in their schools,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the teacher advocacy group, Educators 4 Excellence-New York. He added that low-performing schools are more likely to have job openings, so they may end up with the bulk of teachers who leave the two troubled high schools.
Education department officials say the arrangement is different from forced placement, which officially ended in 2005 and Fariña has vowed not to reinstate. Under that policy, the assignments were indefinite and schools had to pay the teachers’ salaries. Under the new plan, the assignments last for one year and the city funds the salaries. And while the teachers will be sent to schools that have openings in the subjects they teach, principals can choose whether to assign them to those spots or use them for other purposes, such as substitutes or small-group instructors.
“We have been assured that there will be no forced placement,” principals union spokeswoman Anne Silverstein said in a statement.
Michael Shadrick, principal of Williamsburg Preparatory School, which is located near Automotive High School, said he doubted that other principals would be “chomping at the bit” to receive teachers who were not rehired at one of the two bottom-ranked schools. While some of those teachers might be skilled educators, principals “would much rather hire people they want and know,” he added.
Still, Shadrick said he would keep an open mind.
“If they send the teachers here, we’ll give them a fair shot,” he said. “But hopefully it won’t come to that.”