N.Y.C. Leader Battles Union

By Jeff Archer — September 12, 2006 1 min read

Joel I. Klein, the chancellor of the New York City schools, has said he would rather pay a group of assistant principals to do busywork than to send them to schools that don’t want them.

At issue are about 50 “excessed” assistant principals who lost their jobs because of school restructurings or other reasons, and who are guaranteed similar positions in the 1.1 million-student district under their union contract.

In the past, the New York system assigned such administrators to schools when they couldn’t find new positions themselves, in some cases bumping less-experienced people from their jobs.

But in a letter to school leaders just before the start of the academic year last week, Mr. Klein said: No more. He wrote that he’d create new jobs for the assistant principals so that schools needn’t take them.

“I will now spend millions of dollars creating jobs we don’t need for assistant principals unable to find positions in any or our schools,” he complained in the letter. System leaders estimate the cost of the new jobs would exceed $5 million.

While conceding that the action represents an unnecessary expense, the chancellor said it was important to allow schools to choose their own staff members. Over the past year, Mr. Klein has stressed the need to shift decisionmaking back to individual schools.

Leaders of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents administrators in the system, did not return calls seeking comment. But CSA President Jill S. Levy told local newspapers that Mr. Klein unfairly portrayed the excessed assistant principals as inept.

Indeed, the chancellor’s letter sparked a flurry of headlines in the city’s hard-edged tabloids, such as, “Klein: We Gotta Keep the Rejects,” and “Get a Job or Get Out.”

Observers saw the chancellor’s announcement as part of a larger attempt to leverage changes in the contract for administrators. The CSA’s current job agreement is three years past the date when it was to have been renegotiated.

“Klein is using this, as he often has in the past, to try to get to a bigger objective, which for him is to try to break the teeth of the principals’ union,” said Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a New York-based think thank that promotes market-based school improvement efforts.

A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2006 edition of Education Week