draining the atr pool

Excessed teacher pool hits five-year low, but not because of more hiring

After a round of buyouts this summer and no school closures starting this year, the number of excessed teachers who remained on the city’s payroll at the start of the school year was smaller than it had been for the last five years, according to figures released on Friday.

But that still left 1,676 teachers without full-time positions when the school year got underway in September, according to the Department of Education, which released the figures. The teachers are part of a so-called absent teacher reserve pool because their positions were eliminated due to budget cuts and school closures, although some were removed for disciplinary reasons.

As of this week, that number had shrank by another 505 teachers after principals filled last-minute vacancies this fall. But even more teachers left the ATR pool during the same period last year, raising questions about whether a new hiring system under Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio has made much of a dent so far.

The ATR pool represents a significant expense to the city because the teachers do not hold full-time positions in schools and their salaries and benefits must be paid for out of the Department of Education’s central budget. Though they save some money by filling in as substitutes, the city estimated that it spent $105 million on the pool’s members in 2013.

The pool first formed in 2006 out of an agreement between the city and the teachers union to give principals more say over hiring decisions. Previously, open positions typically went to teachers with the most experience who wanted the job.

Each year, the pool swelled with new teachers from schools that were shuttering or downsizing, while some languished for years without a new full-time position. Between 2006 and 2013, the number of ATRs in September grew from 788 teachers to an all-time high of 1,957.

The Absent Teacher Reserve pool is at its lowest level since 2009 (Source: TNTP and Chalkbeat reports)
The Absent Teacher Reserve pool was at its lowest September level since 2009. (Source: Chalkbeat reports, TNTP and Department of Education)

The growing labor issue also became a source of heated debate.

The Bloomberg administration said that the pool was mostly made up of weak or lazy teachers who should be removed from city payroll if they couldn’t find a job. Others, including United Federation of Teachers President Mulgrew, Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said the hiring system under Bloomberg did not do enough to help competent teachers find positions. And older teachers contend that principals won’t hire them because their higher salaries cost too much and want younger teachers on staff.

Friday’s release was the first information that the department has provided about the ATR pool since the school year started. In August, officials announced that 97 teachers were removed from the city’s payroll as part of a buyout package that cost $1.8 million.

Officials for both the city and the teachers union said that the lower numbers were a sign that a new agreement aimed at reducing the pool was working. In addition to the buyout, the deal allowed teachers to interview at more schools, while also providing ways to remove teachers who don’t show up for interviews or are documented for misconduct.

“Through the teacher’s contract we have been able to keep more of our best teachers in the classroom while reducing the number of teachers in the ATR pool compared to the same time last year,” Fariña said in a statement.

But a year-over-year comparison of the first three months of the school year, based on numbers provided by the department on Friday, do not seem to fully support that claim. Since September, 505 teachers left the ATR pool compared with 560 teachers last year.

The ATR pool is also made up of other school staff represented by the UFT, including social workers, guidance counselors and school psychologists. Their totals shrank from 366 in September of 2013 to 336 this year, and emptied by another 87 as of December.

It’s unclear how many teachers and staff who exited the pool this year have been hired compared to last year. That breakdown was not provided by the department and a spokeswoman said the information was not available.

Aside from the buyouts, one reason the pool shrank before the school year started is because fewer teaching jobs were eliminated in June as a result of no new schools being closed. De Blasio has said he does not want to close any more schools until they are given a chance to improve, which means that the ATR pool is likely to continue to decrease on its own as teachers find jobs, resign, take leave, or retire.

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”