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To clear rubber rooms, city and union are settling more cases

In the hustle to clear the rubber rooms by the end of the year, the city is mainly settling with teachers charged with infractions — not firing them.

Numbers released by the teachers union today show that in the last six months, the city has cleared nearly half the cases of teachers awaiting trial. The number of teachers charged with misconduct or incompetence has gone from nearly 300 to about 170 since April, when the city and union announced a deal to expedite hearings. (The city, which keeps separate records, reported slightly different numbers.) Union officials said today that most of these cases have been settled by having teachers retire, resign, or pay fines.

One reason the number of settlements is on the rise is that the city has a newfound willingness to settle cases rather than take them through lengthy and costly hearings. Ridding schools of inept teachers has been a priority for the city’s Department of Education, but progress has been slow and very few teachers have been successfully fired for incompetence.

The new rubber room deal has also contributed to the increase in settlements by putting teachers and arbitrators through a pre-hearing mediation process with settlement as the hoped-for outcome. According to union officials, between 20 and 30 cases have been settled through mediation in the last few weeks.

A union official said that it was always possible for the city and union to reach settlements quickly, but prior to the rubber room deal, the city had no interest in expediting the process. He added that teachers who were nearing retirement had no incentive to settle, either. Some chose to prolong their cases and wait in rubber rooms so they could collect their pensions when they hit retirement age, the official said.

How the cases are being settled has not changed significantly. Last school year, 20 teachers retired, 40 resigned, and 88 paid fines and were returned to the classroom. The year before, 34 retired, 22 resigned, and 66 paid fines, according to the union. Others have been suspended, though the union would not release that number.

There are still many teachers — about 250 — who are under investigation and have yet to be charged. Come September, many of them will be placed in administrative positions in schools while their cases wind through the new system.

Misconduct cases:
On or awaiting trail 12/31/09 — 214
On or awaiting trial 7/12/10 — 130 (the city puts this number at 170)
(counts 21 new cases that arrived in late May or June)

Competency cases:
On or waiting trial 12/31/09 — 60
On or awaiting trial 7/12/10 — 40
(counts 10 new cases that arrived in late May or June)

Cases settled (by suspension, retirement, resignation, fine, etc)
2008-09 school year — 134 (the city puts this number at 185)
2009-10 school year — 167 (the city puts this number at 200)

In 08-09 — 34 retirements, 22 resignations, 60 fines
In 09-10 — 20 retirements, 40 resignations, 88 fines

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