Teaching Profession

Via Buyouts, N.Y.C.'s ‘Absent Teacher Reserve’ Pool Shrinks

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 24, 2015 2 min read
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The New York City Education Department says it has decreased the number of educators in its “absent teacher reserve” pool through buyouts, the “counseling out” of poorly performing teachers, and occasional firings.

The ATR is a category of teachers whose positions have been eliminated and lack a permanent school placement, but are still on the payroll. A by-product of the city’s transition from central-office teacher placements to permitting principals to choose their own teachers, the pool has been criticized for its cost—up to $100 million a year. The ATR is not to be confused with the so-called “rubber room,” which refers to a category of teachers removed from the classroom while charges of misconduct against them are adjudicated. Some ATRs, though, are in the pool after being disciplined, and others have had unsatisfactory performance ratings.

Most of the major New York City papersare carrying versions of the story, which is based on new numbers released by the city.

The subtext to all of this, as the newspapers point out, is that New York Gov. Cuomo has plans to increase the weight of student test scores and create an expedited “3020-a” due-process hearing for dismissing teachers. Those ideas are opposed by the United Federation of Teachers. N.Y.C. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city school’s chancellor, Carmen Fariña, both allies of the UFT, are in effect trying to show that it’s possible to deal with bad teachers without resorting to those policy changes.

According to WNYC, the city has slimmed the ATR pool by 289 teachers since April 2014, which was shortly beforea new teachers’ contract was inked. Most of those who left took a buyout offered in the contract or retired; a handful of others resigned, possibly because they were “counseled out” by their principals, a technique Fariña has endorsed as an alternative to the time-consuming 3020-a process; around 50 left because they were facing pending charges of incompetence; and about 20 were fired.

WNYC said some of those teachers were fired for failing to show up at interviews arranged for them, another feature of the new contract. The new teachers’ contract also contained a faster process for terminating teachers with a pattern of “problematic behavior,” but Chalkbeat says that addendum didn’t actually result in any charges being filed.

The city’s efforts to get schools to voluntarily take on more ATR teachers does seem to have worked, though: more than 500 were hired in the fall, Chalkbeat reported.

There are currently about 1,000 teachers left in the pool.

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Photo: As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, looks on, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, right, talks to President of the United Federation of Teachers Michael Mulgrew during a news conference last May announcing a new teacher pact. -Seth Wenig/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.