draining the pool

New York City’s Absent Teacher Reserve is steadily decreasing, city says

Members of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool who did extensive job searches spoke at a press conference with then teachers union President Randi Weingarten at the start of the school year in 2009. (GothamSchools)

The pool of teachers collecting salaries and benefits without holding full-time positions shrunk by roughly 150 compared to this time last year, according to numbers released Thursday by the Department of Education.

The number stands at 1,304 this October — a decline driven by some teachers finding new jobs and others leaving the school system, city officials said. The size of the pool represents only a snapshot in time and fluctuates throughout the school year, but the Department of Education argues that, in the aggregate, the pool has been steadily decreasing.

“We must have a strong teacher in every classroom to provide an equitable and excellent education for all students,” said schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “We’re laser focused on ensuring this while reducing the ATR pool and costs for the city’s taxpayers.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s teachers union have vowed to reduce the number of teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, both by offering buyouts and by helping qualified teachers find jobs. The teachers union contract included provisions to help ATR teachers interview at schools and a buyout that 115 teachers and other staffers took.

A UFT spokesperson said Thursday that the decline in ATR pool represents a “joint effort” between the union and the Department of Education.

City officials said they could not pinpoint exactly how many teachers received new job placements versus how many left the system entirely. When they city last released ATR data in February, officials reported they had successfully placed 500 teachers in full-time positions in both the fall of 2014 and 2015.

Not everyone is thrilled by that statistic. Reducing the ATR pool by putting more teachers in classrooms does a disservice to schools and students, said StudentsFirstNY, an advocacy group that backed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education policies. (The ATR grew under Bloomberg, costing the city about $105 million.)

“The de Blasio administration should not be cheered for shrinking the pool by placing ineffective teachers back in classrooms, which does a profound disservice to thousands of students,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY.

Eric Nadelstern, a former deputy chancellor of New York City schools under Bloomberg who is now a professor at Teachers College, said another reason for the shrinking pool is far fewer schools are closing under de Blasio than under Bloomberg.

Teachers are typically placed in the ATR pool for budgetary reasons, Nadelstern said, or because they were performing poorly. Instead of keeping them within the school system, he said he would do the same as most other “sensible” industries and offer the teachers more buyouts.

“The thought of that in any other field of endeavor would be absurd,” Nadelstern said, “and yet we regularly treat teachers as if they are fungible and interchangeable — and they’re not.”

negotiations

Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.



story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

More in What's Your Education Story?