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