Buyouts to reduce excess teacher pool by 9 percent, city says

The city will pay $1.8 million to 115 teachers and school staff without full-time jobs who have agreed to resign or retire, according to figures released by the Department of Education.

The money was offered to 1,300 people in the “absent teacher reserve” pool due to budget cuts, school closures, or because of disciplinary reasons. The buyout is one of several ways the city is moving to reduce the controversial ATR pool, which last year cost the city $144 million for what has been widely panned as an inefficient use of both taxpayer dollars and human resources.

Still, the pool will shrink by less than 10 percent as a result of the buyouts, which the city and the United Federation of Teachers agreed to in the city’s new teachers contract.

City figures show the ATR pool has more than tripled in size since 2007, from 372 to 1,131 this spring, following former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s move to shutter dozens of schools. As the pool has grown, it’s become fodder for criticism from different sides of the ideological spectrum.

Bloomberg’s supporters have called for the pool to be reduced by not paying excessed teachers while they search for work. Pointing to the large share — about 60 percent— of teachers who had languished for years as ATRs, they have contended that the pool was little more than a warehouse for unwanted teachers.

But opponents said even capable and experienced teachers can’t find work because they were costly to school budgets, discouraging principals from hiring ATR members with higher salaries.

On Thursday, some critics noted that many of the teachers were likely already planning to retire or take a teaching job in another district.

“I could believe that a bunch of them were eligible to retire or a bunch had jobs else where lined up,” said James Eterno, a newly-excessed high school social studies teacher. “My educated guess is that most of those who left probably would have left anyway, so the city basically just petered away money.”

That was true for Bob Friedman, 66, who said the decision to take his $18,000 buyout was a “no-brainer.” He had already been planning to retire after 21 years in the school system

“To me, it was a home run because I was out anyway,” said Friedman, who lost his job teaching physical education in 2012 because of declining enrollment at his high school.

Of the group that took the buyout, department officials could not say how many were eligible for retirement. Their average salary, $93,000, is near the maximum salary for city teachers.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew defended the packages in a statement. Most teachers who remain in the ATR pool deserve a permanent classroom assignment, but “for teachers who decided teaching was no longer for them, the buyout process was a way to leave the system,” Mulgrew said.

Department of Education officials said the long-term savings would quickly make up for the $1.8 million price tag in one-time payments to exiting teachers. The salaries of those who took the buyout would have totaled $10.7 million next year.

Meanwhile, the city is hoping to reduce the pool through a variety of other provisions that officials said would give effective teachers a chance to find full-time work while rooting out ones who are unfit to teach.

Teachers and staff who are in the pool and then miss a job interview, or decline an offer at a school, are automatically assumed to have resigned, officials said. After Oct. 15, schools with remaining vacancies will be assigned teachers in the pool, but principals can remove them at any time for small indiscretions.

In a statement, Chancellor Carmen Fariña reiterated that no principal would be forced to hire or keep teachers they don’t want.

“There is no forced placement of these teachers,” Fariña said.