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For one set of teachers, the hiring freeze is a long-awaited gift

Randi Weingarten is hoping that the hiring freeze will help teachers in the group known as the Absent Teacher Reserve. (GothamSchools) Teachers union president Randi Weingarten is trumpeting the teacher hiring freeze announced today as a victory for teachers who have been sitting on the city payroll but without actual teaching jobs, the group known as the Absent Teacher Reserve pool.

The freeze also marks a victory for her in a long-standing dispute with the Bloomberg administration over what to do with teachers who find no placement in the city’s newly free-flowing teacher market, which for the first time requires that both principals and teachers have a say in which teachers are assigned to which schools. While the Bloomberg administration has pushed for letting go teachers who don’t find placements, the union has insisted on full job security, even for teachers who spend several years without finding a placement.

Today’s announcement ensures not only job security, but actual positions at schools. Now, when principals need to fill an opening, they can turn only to teachers in the pool, and not to teachers from one of the alternative certification programs, Teach for America and Teaching Fellows, that serve the city.

Weingarten said that she expects that “virtually all” members of the ATR pool will be helped by the freeze. “The principal still has the right to choose,” she said in a telephone interview today. “But they’re choosing from a pool of experienced people who have performed well in the New York City system.”

A schools official, Photeine Anagnostopoulos, told reporters today that the department’s new hiring rules do not represent a win for the union or a departure from the market principles that the 2005 teachers’ contract instilled. “It is very different,” Anagnastopoulous said. “We are not force-placing anyone.” Force-placing occurred in the past, when a teacher could be placed at a school against both her preference and the preference of the principal.

Teachers join the ATR pool if their positions are eliminated via their school becoming smaller or shutting down. The pool has grown in recent years as more schools have been shuttered, becoming a cause of concern for the union and a financial liability for the DOE, which pays teachers in the pool full benefits and salary. According to DOE officials, 1,100 teachers are currently in the reserve, along with about 300 other union members.

Weingarten insists that teachers in the ATR pool are qualified and competent. The teachers who belong in the pool argue that they haven’t been placed at schools because they are relatively more expensive to principals. Until today, the Bloomberg administration had strongly resisted, suggesting that teachers in the pool were less attractive candidates than new teachers because no principal had hired them.

A report by an organization that studies teacher labor markets and coordinates alternative-certification programs, The New Teacher Project, found that teachers in the pool were six times as likely to have been rated unsatisfactory by a principal as teachers who hold positions.

An agreement negotiated between the UFT and the DOE last year gave principals an incentive to hire teachers in the ATR pool by subsidizing their salaries, but it did not require them to select only from teachers in the pool. Now, principals will have to pick from teachers in the pool, which is likely to grow as schools handle impending budget cuts by slashing their payrolls. The new additions to the pool are likely to be mostly newer teachers, because schools will have to let teachers go in the order that they were hired.

That agreement still applies, according to the DOE’s top human resources executive, Larry Becker. He said the incentive would not kick in for teachers who are excessed this summer unless they still have not found a new position by late fall.

Here’s Weingarten’s full statement:

We are gratified that the Department of Education is implementing a teacher hiring freeze and taking steps to fill school vacancies with veteran educators who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and are now working in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool. We have been calling for these measures since last October and we reasserted them when Mayor Bloomberg first raised the possibility of teacher layoffs due to budget concerns. We often criticize the Mayor and the chancellor when we think it is warranted. Now they deserve credit for trying to find permanent positions for these dedicated educators who are much better utilized as full-time teachers. With shortfalls in school budgets, it is imperative that every dollar be spent wisely and to best effect. This policy will avoid a waste of talent and money and get these skilled educators back into the classroom.

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