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City, union agree to close rubber rooms by December

Teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct will soon be put to work instead of languishing in reassignment centers known as “rubber rooms.”

The city and teachers union announced today a deal to clear the rubber rooms by changing the way charges against teachers are reviewed. The cost-cutting process, which officially takes effect in September, mixes a shorter time limit for the city to file charges, more arbitrators hearing cases during more hours, and work assignments for teachers whose cases are pending. The agreement doesn’t give the city flexibility to pull all teachers awaiting trial off payroll, as a list of contract proposals the city made earlier this year demanded.

Maura was at the press conference and will have more details soon. For now, here’s the city’s press release:

MAYOR BLOOMBERG, CHANCELLOR KLEIN AND UFT PRESIDENT MULGREW ANNOUNCE BREAKTHROUGH AGREEMENT TO ELIMINATE “RUBBER ROOMS”

Streamlined Disciplinary Process to Return Good Teachers to the Classroom and Provide for Efficient Removal of Others from Payroll

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew today announced a landmark agreement to eliminate temporary reassignment centers, or “rubber rooms,” where teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence are assigned pending resolution of their cases. Under the new agreement, most teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence will be assigned to perform administrative work in Department of Education offices or given non-classroom duties in their schools while their cases are resolved.

Despite everything we’ve accomplished together to improve our City’s public schools, we still have major reforms and improvements to tackle–and that is exactly what we are doing,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “Fixing this broken process gets us all back to what we want to be doing, giving our kids the education the need and deserve.”

“The rubber rooms are a symptom of a disciplinary process that has not worked for anyone-not the kids, not the schools, and not the teachers,” UFT President Mulgrew said. “This agreement is designed to get teachers out of the rubber rooms and to ensure that they do not have to wait for months or years to have their cases heard.”

“The rubber rooms were the result of a broken and protracted teacher discipline process. This deal goes a long way in improving the way the union and the department deal with teachers accused of and charged with wrongdoings,” Chancellor Klein said. “We are committed to adhering to the timetables outlined in the new agreement and confident that in the end our kids will benefit from this better process.”

There currently are some 550 teachers assigned to these rubber rooms, costing the City $30 million each year. Using this new process, cases that once may have lasted several years will now be resolved within a few months. After removing a teacher from the classroom, the Department will have 10 days to file incompetence charges or 60 days to file misconduct charges depending on the nature of the case.

If reassigned teachers investigated for misconduct are not charged within the 60-day window, they will be returned to their classrooms. Similarly, teachers accused of incompetence who are not charged within 10 days of reassignment will also return to their schools. Investigations can continue after a teacher is back in the classroom, however, and the teacher may still face charges.

In some “non-termination” cases where the Department is seeking a suspension at reduced or no pay, the agreement allows the Department to use an expedited, three-day disciplinary process.

Additionally, the agreement expands the list of charges for which the Department can suspend teachers without pay following a probable cause hearing to include violent felony crimes. When charges are not substantiated against educators, they will be entitled to back pay.

Under the new agreement, the number of arbitrators will increase from 23 to 39, and arbitrators will now hear incompetence charges seven days a month rather than five. Additional arbitrators will be hired to hear non-termination cases in the expedited disciplinary process.

While the agreement will not take effect until September at the start of the 2010-2011 school year, the Department and UFT have agreed to begin immediately addressing the backlog of cases of teachers now in rubber rooms, with the goal of resolving all current cases by December.

The provisions of this agreement will be enforceable under the grievance procedures of the UFT contract. A copy of the agreement is attached.

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