Deep Thaw

Principals can now hire new teachers in most subjects, ending five-year freeze

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Principals can now hire new teachers in almost every subject area and grade, officials said this week, effectively ending a half-decade hiring freeze that cut costs by shrinking the labor force but also frustrated would-be teachers and accompanied growing class sizes.

Another signal of the city’s rebound from the depths of the recession, the hiring thaw should slow a five-year decline in the number of city teachers but will also mean new competition for educators already in the system who have struggled to find placements.

The new policy reverses rules the city enacted in 2009 that permitted principals to fill vacancies only with teachers already on the city payroll, except in select high-demand areas like special education or science. It also bolsters Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s pledge to re-empower principals and to boost the arts and support services in schools, since art teachers and guidance counselors have been removed from the restricted list.

Now principals are free to hire new teachers in English, social studies, health, foreign languages, and other subjects, along with school psychologists, social workers, and librarians, as staffing begins for next school year.

“That’s a wonderful thing,” said Serapha Cruz, principal of M.S. 331 in the Bronx. She said her school takes in talented student teachers every year who cannot always be hired because of the restrictions.

“That’s who we want to hire because they can hit the ground running,” Cruz said. “Now we’ll be able to do that.”

Still, the city is taking steps to control costs even as the restrictions are eased.

To prevent schools from replacing lots of existing staff members with new hires, which could cause the city’s payroll to balloon, any effort to displace current employees must pass a “strict review,” principals were told this week. Assistant principals and parent coordinators in particular cannot be “excessed” this year, city officials said. And the officials are urging school leaders not to overlook teachers in the system just because they can now hire outside it.

“Because we have more flexibility in hiring, that should not be seen as an opportunity to rush out and hire all new people right away,” Larry Becker, the Department of Education’s human resources chief, told principals in a webcast this week.

Cautioning principals not to remove too many staff members, Becker added that the new flexibility “is contingent on the overall number of excessed teachers” and could be curtailed at any time. Also, schools still cannot hire new paraprofessionals, school aides, secretaries, or teachers in a few areas, including home economics and vocational courses.

Former Chancellor Joel Klein instituted the hiring freeze amidst budget cuts brought on by the financial downturn. By limiting hires to existing department employees, the city was able to shrink its payroll as teachers retired or left the system while avoiding layoffs. The policy was also intended to drain the expanding pool of teachers who had lost their permanent positions — often because the city was closing their schools — but kept earning salaries.

That absent teacher reserve pool has shed about 700 teachers since 2009, and there are about 5,000 fewer total teachers in the system than before the freeze, even as the rate of educators leaving their posts has slowed. At the same time, class sizes have climbed steadily over the past five years.

The hiring freeze was never absolute and has become less restrictive over time. The city has allowed schools to hire teachers of certain subjects if demand was high and the number of qualified teachers in the excessed pool was low. New schools and those in hard-to-staff areas also faced fewer hiring restrictions, and some principals reportedly sidestepped the rules by filling vacancies with long-term substitutes or hiring teachers for non-restricted grades or subjects and then placing them in other classes.

The new hiring policy is likely to pose a challenge to the pool of 1,200 teachers without full-time positions. As of last spring, nearly 60 percent of teachers in the absent teacher reserve had been in the pool for two or more years. The new competition may make it even harder for those ATR teachers seeking permanent placements to get hired.

Here is the full list of teachers that can now be hired from outside the school system and those that still cannot:

Permitted:
· Special education
· Speech
· Sciences
· Mathematics
· English
· Social studies
· Common branches
· Early childhood and middle school generalist
· Bilingual (all of the above licenses)
· English as a second language
· Physical education and health
· Arts licenses including visual arts, music, theater and dance
· Most foreign languages including Spanish, Chinese, Latin and French
· Guidance counselor
· School social worker
· Librarian
· School psychologist

Restricted:
· Reading
· Business licenses including accounting, business practices, and distributive education
· Typing and stenography
· Home economics
· Most vocational licenses
· Attendance
· Paraprofessional
· School Aide
· School Secretary
· Community-series titles

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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