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Agreement on ATRs: Forced placement ban lives, and job security

Breaking a stalemate that hadn’t budged for months, the teachers union and the Department of Education have reached an agreement on how to drain a pool of teachers that has has been costing the city tens of millions of dollars — even though the teachers do not hold actual jobs. (I reported earlier that a tentative agreement was on the way; now, after the union’s executive board voted approvingly, it’s official.)

The group of teachers, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve, includes teachers who have been removed from their positions, but have not found new ones and cannot be fired because the union contract prevents that.

To deplete the pool, the agreement calls for offering monetary incentives to lure principals into hiring ATR members; they would not only have to pay less than the ATR members’ full salary levels, but they would also receive a lump sum of cash to sweeten the incentive.

It does not, however, include other proposals that had been floated. One that is not in the agreement was promoted by the Department of Education but opposed by the union; it would have forced ATR members who had remained in the pool for a certain length of time to go off the city payroll. Another proposal not in the agreement was suggested by the union; it would have forced principals to hire ATR members before hiring any other kind of teacher, a possibility the Department of Education strenously opposed, saying it would force teachers onto schools without principals’ consent.

Another thing the press release doesn’t make clear — and which no one can probably actually know — is whether the agreement will actually save the city money. Although encouraging principals to hire ATR members rather than new teachers could save the city in net, it would also cost the city money in financial incentives.

Here’s how a press release that just came out summarizes the deal:

Under the terms of the agreement, schools that hire one of the educators in the ATR pool after November 1 of each calendar year will receive two subsidies. The Department of Education (DOE) will pay the difference between the ATR’s actual salary and the salary of a starting teacher, and then, in subsequent years, will continue to pay the difference between the actual salary and the subsequent steps on the salary scale. This subsidy will terminate once the excessed employee has been in the position for eight years. The DOE will also give schools that hire an ATR an additional lump sum equal to half of a new hire’s salary. Principals who are willing to hire ATRs but not permanently place them can instead hire ATRs on a provisional basis. In those cases, schools will pay the educators’ actual salaries. If a principal and ATR decide the ATR should be placed permanently, the school will receive the subsidies. If the ATR is not permanently placed, the ATR will return to the ATR pool at the end of the school year.