pool report

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. 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.”

Training teachers

More literacy coaches to bolster Tennessee’s drive to boost student reading

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

More than half of its school districts signed on last year when Tennessee created a network of literacy coaches to help classroom teachers improve their students’ reading.

Now entering the program’s second year, another 16 districts are joining up. That means two-thirds of Tennessee districts will have instructional supports in place aimed at addressing the state’s lackluster reading levels.

Tennessee has a reading problem. Less than half of its students in grades 3-8 were considered proficient in 2015, the last year for which test scores are available. In Memphis, the numbers are even more stunning. Less than a third of Shelby County Schools’ third-graders are reading on grade level.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during the statewide launch of Read to be Ready in 2016.

The state wants to get 75 percent of third-graders proficient by 2025. (New scores coming out this fall will help track progress.)

The coaching network is a major component of Tennessee’s Read to be Ready drive, launched in 2016 by Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. The focus is helping teachers improve literacy instruction for the state’s youngest students.

So far, some 200 coaches have worked directly with more than 3,000 teachers in 83 districts, including all four urban districts. This fall, 99 out of the state’s 146 school systems will participate.

About 92 percent of classroom teachers report that coaching is improving their teaching, even as many coaches say they are stretched too thin, according to a state report released Wednesday. Inadequate planning time for teachers is another barrier to success, the report notes.

To join the coaching network, districts must commit to funding a reading coach who will support about 15 teachers. New districts signing up this year are:

  • Scott County Schools
  • Smith County School System
  • Pickett County Schools
  • Jackson County Schools
  • Macon County Schools
  • Clay County Schools
  • Sumner County Schools
  • Dyer County Schools
  • Wayne County Schools
  • Bedford County Schools
  • Benton County Schools
  • Alamo City School
  • Polk County Schools
  • Kingsport City Schools
  • Oak Ridge Schools
  • Dayton City School

A complete list of participating districts can be found here.

Getting there

With new contract, first-year teachers in Detroit could soon make more than peers in Grosse Pointe and other suburbs

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
First-year teachers in Detroit could soon earn more than their peers in neighboring districts. The gray bar in this chart shows where starting salaries were in Detroit last year. The green one shows how the contract could change that.

For years, Detroit’s main school district has paid some of the lowest starting teacher salaries in the region but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says that’s about to change.

The teachers contract approved by the Detroit school board Tuesday night doesn’t include enough of a pay increase to bring city teachers back to where they were in 2011 when a state-appointed emergency manager ordered a 10 percent pay cut.

But data compiled by the Detroit district show that the new agreement, which will boost teacher wages by more than 7 percent, would pay enough that starting teachers could soon earn more than their peers in Dearborn, Grosse Pointe and other nearby districts.

“It doesn’t begin to address the injustice [of pay cuts and frozen wages] but this is a first step,” Vitti told the board as it met at Osborn High School Tuesday.

The new contract was approved last month by members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers union. Now that the school board has signed off, the contract will go to a state financial review board for final approval.

Vitti, who hopes the higher salaries will make it easier for the district to fill more than 400 vacant teaching positions, showed the board a series of charts and graphs that illustrated some effects of the new contract.

Among the charts he flashed on a screen was one that compared starting teacher salaries in Detroit to other districts, before and after the new contract. Another slide showed how salaries would change for teachers at every level of the pay scale. A third warned that the city’s main district could be careening toward a “cliff” if it doesn’t recruit enough young teachers to replace the district’s predominantly senior educators as they begin to retire.

See the charts — and additional details about the contract — below. The last page spells out other steps Vitti says he plans to take to address the teacher shortage.