For the last six months, teachers whose permanent positions were eliminated have known that the city might offer to pay them to leave the city’s payroll. But they haven’t known how much the option could yield, complicating their job-hunting calculus.
Now, we know, sort of — a day after UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Wall Street Journal that the option was “dead in the water.”
The option might have been $14,000, or $25,000, or 25 percent of a teacher’s annual salary, or 20 percent, according to conflicting information the union and city released today. But both sides agreed that the deal stalled after the city made the buyout offer contingent on a different city proposal to give raises to top-rated teachers, a plan that the union had rejected back in January.
In dueling press releases, city and union officials sparred over what terms they had discussed for the buyout. City officials said they had offered to pay $25,000 to teachers who had spent more than one year in the Absent Teacher Reserve if the teachers would resign from the Department of Education.
But union officials said the city’s numbers were misleading. The $25,000 option, they said, would only have applied to ATRs with enough education and experience to put them at the top of the city’s salary scale. Other teachers who had spent more than a decade working in city schools would have netted much less, they said, because the city wanted to cap the offer at 20 percent of each teacher’s annual salary. (The city said the cap was 25 percent of the annual salary.) One-fifth of the average salary of mid-career teachers in the ATR pool, union officials said, would have amounted to just a $14,000 payout.
The city-union dispute over numbers reflected far more significant ideological differences over how to reward excellent teaching and urge weak teachers out of the system.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott first proposed the buyout plan in May during a speech in which he also vowed to purge the city’s teaching corps of teachers who receive “unsatisfactory” ratings for two years in a row. At the time, union officials said lauded the city for arriving at a policy proposal that they said they had suggested for years. As recently as mid-August, as teachers in the ATR pool rushed to find new positions, union officials said the buyout option was still in negotiations and that one might make its way to teachers this fall.
But this week, Mulgrew told the Wall Street Journal, “We thought it was a ruse from the beginning.”
Union officials said they had come to that conclusion after the city responded to their counter-offer on the size of the buyout by adding a new condition to the same terms it had previously proposed. The city’s updated offer, made in late August, would have established a buyout only if the union also agreed to let the city give $25,000 raises to teachers with two consecutive “highly effective” ratings on an evaluation system that is not yet in place. The union had rejected the plan as merit pay within hours of when Bloomberg proposed it in January.
David Weiner, the Department of Education’s deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality issues, today explained that the city had paired the initiatives because the increased pay would reward top teachers and the buyout would solve a problem posed by a set of teachers he characterized as weak.
“In our opinion, ‘highly effective’ should be the most well paid teachers and by offering that salary increase we feel we could be able to retain them at much higher levels. That was something we really were incentivized to do,” Weiner said. “At the same time our ATR pool is a much lower-quality group of teachers.”
Of the 800 teachers in the ATR pool at the end of last year, a third had been brought up on disciplinary charged and nearly a third had received an “unsatisfactory” rating in the last five years, Weiner said. “Folks qualifying for this based on their data were actually a much lower-quality group of individuals,” he said.
In his last message to principals, former chancellor Joel Klein characterized members of the ATR pool as “teachers who either don’t care to, or can’t, find a job.” In fact, the ATR pool was created in a 2005 contract deal between the Bloomberg administration and the union to house teachers whose positions are eliminated, either because of budget cuts or because their schools are shrinking or closing. But the city has long criticized the ATR pool as being a drag on the city’s schools budget because its members are paid their full salaries even though they do not occupy regular teaching positions.
In a statement today, Mulgrew suggested that the city’s political stance on ATRs had adversely affected negotiations over the buyout option.
“Despite the DOE’s mismanagement of the hiring process and the political needs of the mayor, we will continue to fight for the children in our schools, and the rights of the teachers in the ATR pool who are working hard in schools every day,” he said.
He was responding to a statement from the city, in which Walcott touted not only the buyout option but also Bloomberg’s proposal to raise the salaries of teachers who land top ratings on an evaluation system that is not yet in place. The union rejected that proposal as soon as it was proposed in January.
“In an effort to block any and all progress, Mr. Mulgrew has misrepresented our offers to the public, but we will continue to make proposals that reward our best teachers and remove those who are ineffective out of the classroom and off the payroll,” Walcott said in the statement.
Both union and city officials said they had devised their buyout offers based on payouts that would likely induce ATRs to leave the system. But none of the price points they said were discussed would have swayed most of the teachers GothamSchools spoke to this fall about the buyout option.
In August, when the option was still on the negotiating table, one teacher who had spent five years in the reserve pool said she was considering not applying for new jobs because she wanted to leave the buyout option open.
“Everything I’ve taught [via the ATR pool] is outside of my license area. But the truth is, if I accept a new position, I’d be ineligible for the buyout,” said the teacher, who asked not to be identified. “I might not take a position.”
But another teacher said no buyout would be large enough to convince him to give up on teaching in city schools.
And this week, a veteran teacher who is entering her second year in the ATR pool, said during a Department of Education hiring fair that companies such as IBM offer employees buyouts that equal hundreds of thousands of dollars. The department’s likely offer was just too small, said the teacher, who asked not to be identified because she was looking for another teaching position.
“The buyout wouldn’t be real,” said the teacher. “I would take it, if I could retire and not end up on the streets. It’s just not a realistic buyout if you couldn’t live on it.”
Their sentiments were similar to what other teachers told NY1 this week:
They wouldn’t offer me enough, said teacher Judith Allainer. $10,000? Come on. When I’m making much more than that? What would I like? said [teacher Jonathan] Gibbs. Give me years on my pension. If I’m a 15-year teacher, give me 20 years and I’ll take a buyout.