After announcing a plan to place up to 400 teachers without permanent jobs in schools with openings this fall — potentially over principals’ objections — the New York City education department ended up placing just 41, according to figures released Thursday.
The placements are part of a city effort to shrink by half the pool of teachers who receive full salaries and benefits despite having lost their full-time positions due to disciplinary or legal issues, or because schools where they worked were closed or lost enrollment. The pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve, cost the city nearly $152 million last school year.
In September, just over 1,200 teachers were in the pool — a 20 percent decrease from the start of the previous school year, department officials said. The officials attributed the reduction to a hiring incentive that subsidized the salaries of teachers the schools agreed to hire permanently, and a severance package given to over 100 teachers who retired or resigned this summer.
In recent months, principals with open positions have hired 359 of the unassigned teachers — including 205 on a provisional basis, who will only be kept on if they receive good job ratings. The other 113 teachers were hired permanently under a deal where the department will subsidize their salaries through mid-2019.
Randy Asher, the education department official tasked with shrinking the pool, said the city would work to find placements for more unassigned teachers this school year, though he could not say how many. He added that the city would try whenever possible to have principals voluntarily hire the teachers rather than be assigned them.
“We’ve been working to make matches of their own choosing,” Asher told Chalkbeat. “We’re going to continue to work with principals on a case by case basis.”
None of the 41 teachers assigned to schools had faced legal or disciplinary cases, officials said.
Typically, teachers in the reserve pool rotate among schools on a monthly basis, often serving as substitutes. But under the new assignment policy, the teachers — who started at their new positions in November — will remain in the same school for the full academic year.
Officials said the year-long placements will allow the teachers to participate in school trainings and be evaluated by their principals. Those are rated “effective” or “highly effective” on their evaluations will be permanently hired by their schools, the officials said.
The city’s earlier projection of 300 to 400 placements was based on expected school vacancies, but officials said that some of those vacancies turned out to be for teachers on leave who are due to return soon or for spots that no longer need filled due to declining enrollment.
It’s also possible the smaller-than-expected number of vacancies could reflect principals scrambling to fill or otherwise hide their vacant positions before Oct. 15, after which the city was to begin assigning them teachers.
After the placement plan was announced in July, some principals said it would take away their freedom to hire whomever they choose and could saddle them with ineffective teachers. Among 822 teachers in the reserve at the end of last school year, 12 percent had been rated “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” in 2015-16, compared to just 1 percent of teachers citywide, according to city data.
Critics also worried the plan would send subpar teachers to struggling schools, since they are most likely to have openings.
The schools where the 41 teachers were sent include a high school that is part of the city’s “Renewal” program for low-performing schools. Taken together, the schools enroll a higher share of poor students and a lower share of students who passed the state exams than the city average, according to an analysis released by The Education Trust – New York, an advocacy group that had criticized the city’s teacher-placement plan.
“This raises major equity concerns,” said Ian Rosenblum, the group’s executive director, in a statement.
Despite advocates’ fears, some principals welcomed the teachers. Department officials said the principal of the Renewal high school, the Coalition School for Social Change in Manhattan, asked to be sent a teacher from the pool. And the principal of a Bronx school said it struggled to find a qualified special-education teacher before the city assigned it one.
“I don’t know if I got lucky, but it worked out,” said the principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “My dawning perception of folks who are ATRs is give them a job, give them a clear role, and hold them accountable — and they mostly do it.”
The reserve pool grew under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who struck a deal with the teachers union that gave principals more power to make hiring decisions but prevented teachers from being fired. As the Bloomberg administration aggressively closed schools, the number of unassigned teachers swelled even as the union resisted efforts to cap the length of time educators could remain in the pool.
In 2014, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña promised not to use “forced placement of staff” as a way to shrink the ATR pool. Officials argue that the current policy does not qualify as forced placement because teachers are only sent to schools with open positions and the assigned teachers cannot bump others from their positions.
In October, Fariña said principals should “take a chance” on unassigned teachers.
“But if there’s one who you really feel should not be in any school — not just in your school,” she added, “then we’ll support you.”
The schools that were assigned teachers are spread among 20 of the city’s 32 local districts, with the largest — Manhattan’s District 2 — receiving the most teachers (6). Below are the schools where they were sent:
Manhattan P.S./I.S. 217 ROOSEVELT ISLAND BATTERY PARK CITY SCHOOL BUSINESS OF SPORTS SCHOOL THE HIGH SCHOOL FOR LANGUAGE AND DIPLOMACY HIGH SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND FINANCE INDEPENDENCE HIGH SCHOOL COALITION SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL CHANGE P.S. 092 MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE P.S. 133 FRED R MOORE P.S. 197 JOHN B. RUSSWURM MOTT HALL HIGH SCHOOL Bronx BRONX DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION ACADEMY P.S. 011 HIGHBRIDGE P.S. 199X – THE SHAKESPEARE SCHOOL THE NEW AMERICAN ACADEMY AT ROBERTO CLEMENTE STATE NEW DIRECTIONS SECONDARY SCHOOL BEDFORD PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL P.S. 041 GUN HILL ROAD P.S./M.S. 11X498 – VAN NEST ACADEMY FREDERICK DOUGLASS ACADEMY V. MIDDLE SCHOOL Brooklyn P.S. 003 THE BEDFORD VILLAGE CITY POLYTECHNIC HIGH SCHOOL PS 059 WILLIAM FLOYD P.S. 147 ISAAC REMSEN KHALIL GIBRAN INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY P.S. 191 PAUL ROBESON SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND RESEARCH EARLY COLLEGE HS P.S. 219 KENNEDY-KING I.S. 285 MEYER LEVIN FDNY – CAPTAIN VERNON A. RICHARDS HIGH SCHOOL EAST NEW YORK MIDDLE SCHOOL OF EXCELLENCE P.S. 164 CAESAR RODNEY MOTT HALL BRIDGES ACADEMY Queens P.S./I.S. 087 MIDDLE VILLAGE PIONEER ACADEMY GOLDIE MAPLE ACADEMY P.S. 015 JACKIE ROBINSON P.S./M.S. 147 RONALD MCNAIR P.S. 127 AEROSPACE SCIENCE MAGNET SCHOOL