attn atrs

Letter from Mulgrew to ATRs suggests teachers less likely to face expedited hearings than city signaled

Updated with the city’s response: UFT President Michael Mulgrew told excessed teachers on Tuesday that they would be offered a severance package as a part of the proposed contract between the teachers union and the city—a provision that Chalkbeat reported Monday night and was not disclosed for days after both sides’ celebratory announcement.

New details from a memo sent from Mulgrew to absent teacher reserve members, and information provided by union officials, reveal that the excessed teachers would also have stronger job protections than were originally reported or acknowledged by officials.

At last week’s announcement, officials implied that the ATR pool—which includes 1,200 teachers without full-time positions but who are on the city payroll—would be reduced partially by relying on an expedited termination hearing process. The excessed teachers deemed ready for the classroom would be sent to schools with vacancies, but principals who felt the teacher was not a good fit would be able to send the teacher back.

City officials initially said that two rejections would trigger an expedited termination hearing and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña suggested that principals would be able to move quickly to reject a teacher they didn’t want.

“If they go visit a school and the principal says, ‘OK, I’ll try her out,’ but after a day, ‘I don’t want her,’ it’s gone,” Fariña said.

It’s true that a principal will be able to remove teachers who aren’t the right fit in schools they’re assigned to, a union spokeswoman said today. Those teachers will return to the ATR pool, but there is not limit to the number of times they could be given additional temporary placements, she said.

And today’s memo to ATRs explains that a teacher would only be eligible to be brought up on termination charges under that expedited hearing if misconduct two “successive” principals document them for misconduct. That means that if two out of three principals document misconduct—as opposed to two in a row—the teacher would still be permitted to fill vacancies at another school, making  it much less likely that the new hearing process on its own will significantly reduce the number of teachers in the pool.

City officials disputed the union’s take on the issue, saying that ATR teachers merely need to be documented twice in a school year.

“We are reducing the Department’s spending in the ATR pool by helping good teachers get back into the classroom while expediting the process to move out teachers who don’t belong in the profession,” said spokeswoman Devora Kaye. “And as the Chancellor affirmed last week, we are doing so while respecting mutual-consent hiring.”

In the five days since de Blasio and Mulgrew congratulated one another for agreeing on a framework for public school teachers’ first contract since 2005, both sides have been slow to provide details of the deal. They praised the agreement last week for including raises, allowing for innovative school scheduling, and putting the city school system on a path toward “true reform.”

In today’s memo, Mulgrew blamed the press for propagating “some myths” about a new arrangement to place them back into city schools. Just 12 hours earlier, the union declined to discuss details about the ATR arrangement, including the severance package for excessed teachers.

Critics pounced on the new details as evidence that Mayor Bill de Blasio was purposefully withholding less-flattering information about the contract.

“It’s outrageous that the de Blasio administration covered up the details of a deal that will put 1,200 teachers back into the classrooms of this city’s most vulnerable children, ” StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said. “Until we see actual contract language, this calls into question every aspect of Thursday’s announcement.”
Requests for comments from the city were not immediately returned, but we will update the story with a response.

Mulgrew’s full note to ATRs is below:

Dear Colleagues,

When the previous administration let it be known that it intended to summarily fire all members in the Absent Teacher Reserve, we as a union made a commitment to stand by our members. We held true to that commitment throughout our negotiations, and the results are in this new contract.

The contract preserves your rights and improves your chances of permanent placement. And, of course, you will participate in the contractual raises and working-condition changes that we won for all members. The press coverage, however, has included some myths about how ATRs are treated under the new contract and misconceptions abound. We want to be sure you have the facts and know your rights.

Myth #1 (the biggest one!):
The city is going to fire the ATRs.
Reality:
No UFT member, whether an ATR or otherwise, will ever be automatically fired. Any ATR may accept, at his or her sole discretion, a voluntary severance package based on years of service.

Myth #2:
Schools still won’t hire ATRs because they are too expensive.
Reality:
Under the new contract, schools that select ATRs for permanent placement will not have that ATR’s salary included in the school’s average teacher salary calculation, which means that principals no longer have a reason to pass over more senior educators in favor of newer hires with lower salaries.

Myth #3:
The contract includes a new way to get rid of ATRs.
Reality:
Not true. ATRs actually get improved access to job placements. Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, 2014, the DOE must send ATRs on interviews for vacancies in their districts and boroughs, and ATRs must attend all of those interviews. After Oct. 15, ATRs are required to accept provisional assignments to schools with a vacancy in their license area within their district or borough. If there is no school with a vacancy in their district or borough, they will continue to be rotated within their district.

Myth #4:
ATRs are going to lose their due process rights.
Reality:
No ATR can be disciplined or fired unless a hearing officer decides that is appropriate in a 3020-a hearing. An ATR who has been placed in a vacancy and is removed by two successive principals for documented misconduct — not pedagogy — may be subject to discipline. The DOE must prove the charge of misconduct through an expedited 3020-a process.

The new contract agreement between the UFT and the DOE, which will go out for your ratification soon, is a strong contract for all our members, including all our ATRs.

Don’t miss the latest news about New York City schools: Follow Chalkbeat NY on Facebook.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede