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Civil Service rules leave their mark on the Dept of Education

Chancellor Joel Klein often trumpets the importance of giving principals the power to hire the teachers they want. But Klein’s own ability to select his staff could soon be compromised.

A court case decided in 2007, known as the Long Beach decision, requires New York City (and municipalities throughout the state) to fill certain positions by hiring off of lists of people who’ve passed Civil Service exams. Most of these jobs are administrative or clerical — they include secretaries and associate supervisors of school security — but some are also held by high level managers, chiefs of staff, and some of the department’s press team.

Currently, many of these jobs are held by people classified as provisional employees, meaning they never took the exams because the exams didn’t exist or were given too infrequently. Over the next several years, all city agencies will have to significantly cut down on the number of provisional workers, either by laying them off or having current employees take Civil Service tests.

To do this, the city is increasing the number of Civil Service exams it offers and reclassifying some jobs so that they don’t have to be filled by someone on a list.

The Department of Education’s chief of Human Resources, Larry Becker, said the Long Beach decision could pose a problem for DOE managers, a classification that applies to roughly 900 people at Tweed. Deputy chancellors and division heads won’t be affected.

“At the managerial level it could be a problem,” Becker said. “But most of our managers were aware of this and took the first level of exams. We expect since most of the people are absolutely brilliant that they will pass the test. And we’ll be able to select them.”

Managers who fail the exam, which is multiple choice and only requires a score of 70 percent to pass, could have a hard time holding onto their jobs.

If a manager or chief of staff leaves the department, Becker will have another problem: how to replace that person.

He’ll have four options: if a Civil Service list exists, he’ll have to hire from the list. If there’s an old list and an exam hasn’t been given for years, he can ask job applicants to take the exam. When there’s no list and no exam, the department can hire anyone it likes, but that person can’t keep the job for long without eventually taking a test. And finally, the department can decide not to replace the person who left.

The Long Beach decision is also influencing who the department lays off.

“I have reduction targets to meet, so if I have people who are purely provisional I know they’re going, it’s only a matter of when,” Becker said. “So that person is more likely to be on my than list than someone who is not provisional.”

Many of those cut have been clerical workers in the Human Resources department (70 people), Division of School Facilities (28 people), and the Office of School Food (20 people).

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