In his fight to fend off the education policy proposals being pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said his administration is already cracking down on subpar teachers.
In particular, he has pointed to 290 or so teachers who have left the school system entirely between April 2014 and this February. They left the costly and controversial absent teacher reserve pool, and represent as many exits as the Bloomberg administration saw during the previous two years combined, city officials said.
“My administration is serious about teacher accountability,” de Blasio told state lawmakers last month while defending his plan for struggling schools. “We have moved 289 teachers out of the Absent Teacher Reserve – and out of the system – since April.”
New figures released Friday, along with documents obtained by Chalkbeat, offer new insight into why those teachers departed. They show that disciplinary processes, including new ones created by last year’s teacher contract, played a fairly small role, with only 21 of the teachers terminated after missing job interviews or for other reasons.
De Blasio has said recently that his administration prefers different strategies. Nearly 200 of those 289 teachers — who lost their permanent positions and couldn’t find new ones, but remained on the city’s payroll as substitutes — took buyouts last summer or retired this school year. Another 18 resigned, and 53 agreed to leave while facing charges of misconduct or incompetence.
In addition, no teachers had faced charges under a new, expedited termination process as of December 2014, according to a department document obtained by Chalkbeat. (That process requires a teacher to have logged formal complaints from two separate principals, something that could be unlikely to happen in the first months of the school year.)
The new figures brought renewed calls from advocates of Cuomo’s plans to change to state law that sets out the procedures for teacher termination.
“Instead of being part of the solution, this administration has thrown its hands up and resigned itself to working around a broken system,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY.
But the absent teacher reserve has shrunk under de Blasio, in part because he did not close any schools last year. Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the pool ballooned with teachers excessed from closing schools, costing the city an estimated $105 million in 2013.
City officials says the pool had about 1,000 teachers this February. More than 500 teachers were hired for full-time positions in the fall, according to the department document, and the pool had 280 fewer members at the start of this school year than last.
Now, the de Blasio administration is facing the same complicated process of removing the pool’s longtime members that has frustrated city leaders for years.
Testimony given in 2013 by Lawrence Becker, the department’s CEO of human resources, illustrates some the challenges. More than 300 teachers in the pool then had incompetence or misconduct charges against them substantiated, but were not allowed to be terminated. More than 200 had recently received an unsatisfactory rating, and more than 150 were licensed to teach “esoteric” subjects, making them difficult to place in schools. Formal disciplinary proceedings can last months and sometimes years.
On Thursday, de Blasio said that the best way to get around those problems is by avoiding formal procedures altogether. Instead, principals and department officials should focus on counseling subpar teachers to leave on their own, a strategy that Chancellor Carmen Fariña told Capital gives them an “opportunity to leave gracefully.” Some of the recent retirements and resignations were likely the result of that kind of strategic pressure, officials said.
“If you can counsel someone out voluntarily, skip all that process — ‘You don’t belong here anymore, you’re a good human being but you don’t belong here anymore, you’re not into it, you’re burned out, you can’t do what we need you to do in this day and age,’ whatever it is — if that person goes along willingly, that is the most efficient way to resolve the problem,” de Blasio said.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, a close ally of de Blasio’s, has also acknowledged that the process for matching excessed teachers to schools that need them still needs work.
“The entire ATR process was so mismanaged by the Bloomberg administration that it will take years to sort out,” Mulgrew said.