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Rubber room backlog still looks too large to clear by year’s end

The administrative work centers that evolved from the rubber rooms are getting less crowded, but they may still be too crowded to disappear by the city’s December deadline.

On Monday, nearly 450 teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence will report to work in Department of Education administrative offices throughout the city, instead of to rooms or trailers where they would clock in and spend the day doing nothing. That’s about a third fewer teachers than the 650 teachers who left the rubber rooms at the end of the school year.

But the number of teachers still waiting for their cases to be resolved suggests that the city and union may not be able to meet their goal of clearing the backlog by the end of the year.

The city’s ability to clear through the backlog may depend on the number of teachers still awaiting charges. A GothamSchools analysis published in April showed that the city would face an uphill battle clearing the cases of the roughly 250 teachers who had not been charged at that time even if it spent all of September through December working on just those cases.

That conclusion was grounded in the assumption that the city would resolve all of the roughly 300 cases of teachers who’d already been charged over the summer. But that hasn’t happened. Though the city has dealt with many of these cases, and at a faster rate than before, some remain.

That means in order to clear through the outstanding cases by the December deadline, arbitrators will have to pack even more hearings into the remaining four months than they would if they were hearing just the cases of teachers who have not yet been charged. Each of the city’s 39 arbitrators will hear cases 7 days a month, but to fully hear the cases of just 250 teachers by December, they will have to speed their hearing time at a rate that is unprecedented.

The city would not release a breakdown today of how many of the 443 teachers who will report for work on Monday have not yet been charged. In July, the number of teachers waiting for charges remained where it was in April, at around 250 teachers.

And it is possible that the city could lower the number of cases it must clear through by declining to charge some of the teachers.

Under the new hearing system the city and union agreed on in April, the city now has 60 days from the start of school to charge those teachers with misconduct, or 10 days to charge them with incompetence. Teachers who are not charged during that time will automatically return to the classroom. Those who are will have 10 to 14 hearings over the next two months, and arbitrators are expected to return their decisions within a month of the final hearing.