A top city school official is reassuring union president Randi Weingarten that teachers in alternative-certification programs like Teach For America will not get a preference over graduates of education schools. But whether new schools will be able to work around the hiring freeze, as school officials initially declared, appears to be under debate.

The note to Weingarten, from Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf, followed a letter she sent yesterday urging the Department of Education to treat all teachers outside the system the same. Cerf’s note says the department will do that. But it also includes a new twist in the story: an acknowledgment that the hiring-freeze exception for new schools, who Chancellor Joel Klein said could hire anyone they wanted, is now “under discussion.”

Cerf did not offer me clarification on what exactly that means, though he did say that Weingarten and the teachers union have no role in the discussions.

One clue is that, in addition to Weingarten, Merryl Tisch, the head of the state Board of Regents, is also voicing concern about the idea of holding new schools exempt from the hiring freeze. In a short telephone interview today, Tisch said that the policy could hurt her goal of sending the most qualified teachers to the hardest-to-staff schools. New schools are actually easier to staff than existing struggling schools, she said, so why should they be the only ones to get free reign on hiring?

“All of these schools should be treated equally. The small schools and the remaining schools, which is most of the schools, should be allowed to hire teachers along the same guidelines,” Tisch said.

Tisch also indicated that she may have leverage on this point. “We do not, at the state, have the authority to tell the city school system how they can staff their schools or how they can fire,” she said. “What we do have is, we have the authority to look at the alternative pathways and see if the policy is being used the way we want it to be used.” Alternative pathways to teaching were created, she said, with the explicit goal of steering qualified teachers to hard-to-staff schools.

Weingarten’s original letter also asked Cerf to consider offering a retirement incentive for veteran teachers. Cerf told me that the city has considered incentives before, but determined them to be more expensive than frugal in the long run.

Cerf’s full note to Weingarten is below:

Randi:  Thanks for your letter referenced below.   I am replying quickly and by email as I want no time to  e lapse before correcting a misimpression contained in your letter.  In no respect are Teach for America members or Teaching F e llows given any preference whatever over graduates of schools of education.   In light of our budget situation, schools may only fill vacant positions via the excess pool or the Open Market Transfer System.  Only if there are insufficient candidates (e.g, in certain shortage areas) in the closed universe of the DOE labor pool, may a school look elswhere.  Were that to occur, they would be free to hire teachers from any source — and no pathway would be preferenced.   As you know, we are currently in discussions with respect to a limited exception for new schools.  Even in that context, however, no preference would be made for teachers from different pathways.

With respect to your second point, we have carefully considered your suggestions with respect to the budget and incorporated many, but not all, of them.

Best regards,

Chris