details

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.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”