School & District Management Opinion

A Rubber Room By Any Other Name...

By Tom Segal — October 17, 2012 3 min read
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Do people know about rubber rooms?

Obviously some of the folks reading this particular blog know about them, but my audience tends to skew on the side of educationally-aware. But are regular, everyday folk aware of their existence?

In case you are not, rubber rooms (or “reassignment centers”) are what Wikipedia describes as “holding facilities” for the New York City Department of Education. They are essentially jail cells for teachers accused of misconduct awaiting resolution of their case while being paid in full to do nothing. As a resident of Manhattan (and a rational human being), this concerns me.

Yesterday, I came across a link to the Daily News that sparked my recollection of the rubber room phenomenon. Reading it, I thought to myself, “gee, that’s funny. I thought Mayor Bloomberg had done away with rubber rooms a couple years ago.”

As it turns out, the rubber-rooming process has just been streamlined (slightly), and while the rubber rooms themselves have been disbanded, they have simply fractured into unused offices/closets/lockerrooms that serve as the equivalent of solitary confinement to the old rubber rooms’ communal holding cell.

These rubber-roomers get paid a fine salary to perform such tasks as counting the amount of chairs in a school building (a month-long assignment) and practicing pitching a softball (unclear how successful this endeavor can be in a supposedly cramped space). While the $22 million being paid to these rubber-roomers (not counting the paychecks of substitutes taking their place) is certainly a step up from the $30-40 million before the Bloomberg crackdown, it’s still TWENTY TWO MILLION DOLLARS being paid to “teachers” to accomplish NOTHING.

Now, I understand that many of these rubber-roomers may have perfectly valid excuses for how they wound up rubber-roomed, and indeed the arbitration process they are waiting on may very well clear their names. However, there is no excuse at all for the lack of production and wasted manpower, from either end of the aisle. Administrators and the DoE can’t find more legitimate uses for the rubber-roomers than counting chairs? I understand they cannot have face-to-face interaction with students during their arbitration process, but I find it extremely hard to believe (especially given my familiarity with Learning Management Systems through my work at Rethink Education) that there are no data input projects or things of that nature worth tasking the rubber-roomers with. Perhaps these rubber-roomers can be spearheading fundraising efforts for the very schools whose funds they are currently draining? Services like Schoola make this rather easy to accomplish these days.

On the other side, do these rubber-roomers feel comfortable accepting a paycheck from the state for twiddling their thumbs (or practicing their slow-pitch softball form, apparently) for five days a week when that money could be going to far more legitimate causes in the education of our kids? Just seems inherently wrong to me. I readily admit that I do not have all the information on this subject, but given the information that is public, it appears everyone carries some blame here, and nobody seems to want to make much of an effort to change. The victims, as usual: students.

One of the examples given in the Daily News article of a teacher stuck in the new rubber room system is a teacher that wrote “After today, I am thinking the beach sounds like a wonderful idea for my 5th graders! I HATE THEIR GUTS!” on her Facebook page the day after a 12-year old girl drowned during a school trip. This “teacher” (or whatever term you may use to describe her, as teacher appears to be a stretch) somehow successfully sued to get her job back and now spends her days like the others toiling away on the taxpayer dime as the arbitration process continues.

Not helping matters is the fact that 25 of the city’s 39 arbitrators from a year ago have quit as of June 2012. Turns out they were not getting paid and are suing the DoE for $9 million (we shall see how long that process takes to unfold).

This is all truly wild stuff to an outsider like myself. New York City is currently forced to pay teachers that are not teaching while they wait for arbitrators to arbitrate on the validity of the firings, except they are not paying the arbitrators charged with potentially stripping the pay of teachers that don’t teach?

My head hurts.

The opinions expressed in Reimagining K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.