Fariña’s message on ATR pool: No forced placement

Chancellor Carmen Fariña offered new clues today about a looming issue in the city’s contract talks with the teachers union: how to handle the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Speaking at a City Council hearing, Chancellor Carmen Fariña was unequivocal that the city would stick with its current policy of not forcing teachers to work in specific schools or principals to accept teachers they don’t want.

“There will be no forced placement of staff,” she told Council members. “This is one of the things, when I come back in a couple of weeks, we’ll be happy to discuss.”

She was responding to a question about the future of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers on the city’s payroll who currently do not have a position. The ATR pool, which currently includes 1,200 teachers, has been a source of tension between the city and the union since its numbers swelled during the recession and as the Bloomberg administration closed schools.

The ATR pool was created because of a 2005 contract change that introduced the policy of “mutual consent hiring.” That policy has been seen as a win-win for teachers and principals, who have had more say over the makeup of their staffs.

But a consequence of that policy is that the city is on the hook for the salaries of teachers who decline jobs they are offered, who apply for but aren’t offered jobs, or who choose not to apply for jobs at all. At its current size, the pool costs the city more than $100 million a year—money that would be saved if the city were allowed to assign those teachers to specific schools.

The city could also reduce the ATR pool over time by other means, like instituting limits on how long a teacher could be paid without having a position. That was the preferred policy of the Bloomberg administration, and the strategy that Washington, D.C. took to prevent a similar problem in 2009. 

With negotiations ongoing between the city and the United Federation of Teachers over a new contract, those reductions could be way for the city to find money to use for its pre-kindergarten expansion plan or backpay for teachers. A February report in the Daily News indicated that changes to the “forced placement” policy were under discussion, though a de Blasio spokesman denied that shortly afterward.

In a statement, UFT chief Michael Mulgrew said that the ATR pool was being discussed and signaled that he wanted its members to remain in the school system.

“The teachers in the ATR pool are an important resource for the school system and their assignments are part of our ongoing negotiations with the DOE,” Mulgrew said.

Fariña also said that the broader issue is under discussion, telling reporters that the ATR pool “is something that we’re reviewing right now, even as we speak.”