Maze of rules in bill to end seniority layoffs starts with U-rated

Mayor Bloomberg’s fight against “last-in, first-out” layoff rules— the policy of laying off teachers by reverse seniority — has made its way to Albany.

Last night, State Senator John Flanagan introduced a bill that would end the practice and the same bill will be introduced in the Assembly by New York City Assemblyman Jonathan Bing.

The bill rules out seniority as the sole factor in determining who gets laid off. To replace the current seniority system, the bill offers eight pages of an extraordinarily complicated, prioritized list of which teachers and school supervisors would be first in line to be laid off.

Bing’s Chief of Staff Jake Dilemani said the bill was written with input from the mayor’s office, along with groups like Educators 4 Excellence — an organization of teachers who, with funding from the Gates Foundation, has put forward its own proposal to change teacher layoffs.

In a statement sent to reporters, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said that the bill would “send us back to the days before civil service protections, when people could be fired for being the wrong race or gender, too young or too old.”

Last year, when Bloomberg was threatening to lay off roughly the same number of teachers, Bing proposed a bill that would end seniority-based layoffs. At the time, opposition to the bill was so fierce that the bill was never voted on. But this year, anti-last in first out sentiments have reached a fever pitch, with the city’s four editorial boards lined up in favor of changes.

This year’s bill is substantially more detailed than the one Bing proposed last year.

If the bill is passed into law, there will be nine categories of school employees who will be laid off before their peers. Employees who fall into all of these categories would lose their jobs first, followed by those who fall into eight of the categories, and so on down the scale to employees who fall into two categories. If the city finds that it still needs the lay off people after that, the next rung of layoffs will hit teachers and supervisors who are in the first category — those with unsatisfactory ratings.

The categories, in order of layoff priority, are:

  1. Teachers and supervisors who have received an unsatisfactory rating in the last five years. If the new teacher evaluation system is put in place before layoffs are carried out, then teachers labeled “ineffective” would be the first to go.
  2. Teachers and supervisors who have been fined or suspended without pay in the last five years. This means that teachers who’ve been charged with misconduct or incompetence and have either pled guilty or been found guilty in the last five years would be laid off. For example, the Bronx principal who was found guilty of arbitrarily giving her teachers unsatisfactory ratings and was fined $7,500 would be laid off before another principal. Under the current system, a principal with less seniority would be laid off before her.
  3. Teachers and supervisors who have been in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool for more than six months. These are school employees who were forced out of their jobs when their schools could no longer afford them and have not yet been hired by another school. They remain on the city’s payroll while some work in administration and others work as substitute or full-time teachers. Given that it’s rare for schools to excess staff in the middle of the year, the six-month deadline in the law would include most of the teachers in the ATR pool at the present time.
  4. Any teacher or supervisor convicted of a crime in the last five years.
  5. Teachers and supervisors who have been fined for being chronically absent or late in the last five years. Also includes employees who have been fined for “improper use or recording of leave time.” The terms “chronically absent” and “chronically late” are not defined in the teachers union contract as a set number of days, according to a spokesman for the UFT.
  6. Teachers and supervisors who have been the subject of an investigation in the last five years that ended with the charges being substantiated. This covers school employees who have been investigated by the city school district’s special commissioner of investigation, the city school district’s office of special  investigations or the city school district’s office of equal opportunity. Having charges substantiated translates to an indictment, but it does not mean that these people have been found guilty.
  7. Teachers and supervisors who, by the August 31 of the year in which layoffs take place, have not completed their certification.
  8. Teachers who, for two years or more, have been ranked in the bottom 30 percent of teachers based on their students’ test scores. These rankings, which measure students’ progress against a model that predicts what their test scores should have been, cover a small percentage of teachers. Only teachers who teach math and English in grades 4-8 receive teacher data reports.
  9. Teachers and supervisors who were not granted tenure after three years, but were put on probation for the year preceding layoffs. Recently, the Department of Education has begun encouraging principals to extend teachers’ probation rather than offer them tenure if they believe the teacher shows promise, but is not yet ready for a lifetime commitment from the city. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from teachers who’ve had their probationary periods extended by one or two years when their schools had a series of new principals, each of whom requested an additional year to get to know her staff.

And we’re not done yet.

If the city lays off all of the teachers who fall into multiple categories, then proceeds to the first category — those with unsatisfactory ratings — but discovers that it only needs to lay off a fraction of these people, then new measures come into play. Employees with the most unsatisfactory ratings in the last five years will be laid off first, followed by those who have been given U-ratings, as they’re commonly known, most recently.

Employees in the Absent Teacher Reserve will be laid off based on how long they’ve been in the pool. And teachers and supervisors who have been convicted of a crime in the last five years will be laid off based on how recent the conviction was. Among those who fall in the low value-added score category, teachers with the lowest scores will be laid off first, unless they teach children with disabilities or who require special education services.

If the city makes its way through this labyrinthine process and still needs to lay off more teachers, the ball rolls into the court of the Board of Regents, who will get to decide what types of teachers are laid of next. The bill contains a measure meant to protect high needs schools — defined as those where 90 percent of students get free or reduced lunch — against being overly burdened by layoffs. It states:

Any such regulations must ensure that in a high-need school the number of staff laid off shall not exceed the percentage of the overall number of positions in the school that represents half of the average percentage of staff laid off citywide.

If the Board of Regents does not come up with a layoff plan within 75 days, individual school principals will get to decide who to let go, using guidance from the city’s school chancellor. A committee of parents, teachers, and administrators is supposed to advise the principal in making this decision. However, if the city decides that it wants to eliminate all the positions within a certain license area (e.g. gym or art), it can overrule the Board of Regents and principals’ decisions.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.