In New York City public schools, more than 1,000 teachers who have lost their teaching positions still receive their salaries. According to a new agreement between the teachers union and the NYC department of education, they are even getting a raise and retroactive pay.
By a 3-to-1 margin, public school teachers approved a contract raising salaries for the most experienced teachers from the current $100,049 to $119,471 in 2018. Other teachers will receive similar increases—with salaries starting at $56,709—and that includes those in what is called the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), a program where New York teachers who find themselves without a job can still be paid.
Several years ago, New York schools received much attention regarding their “rubber room” policy. Reassignment centers, otherwise known as “rubber rooms,” were places where the city sent teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct. Even though these teachers were not teaching, they received their salaries while their cases were reviewed. Administrators abolished rubber rooms in 2010, but “the ATR is a little bit like the holdover of the rubber room,” said Daniel DiSalvo, Manhattan Institute senior fellow.
Teachers charged with incompetence now complete administrative work while their case is heard, but those who lose their classroom positions because of budget cuts or a smaller student body can enter the ATR and still receive their salaries while going to a different school in the district each week. They substitute when possible, but if no subs are needed, the reserve teachers don’t work. DiSalvo said it’s highly unlikely all will be needed as subs, so they are essentially being “paid their salary not to work.” The estimated cost of the reserve teachers is “as high as $144 million a year,” he said.
Some reserve teachers have applied for new positions and principals have chosen not to hire them. Others are not actively seeking full-time positions. The new contract seems to try to get teachers out of the reserve, but DiSalvo called the new measures “mostly a cosmetic change,” and said it’s not clear whether reserve teachers will have indefinite job rights.
The contract says if two different principals discharge a reserve teacher for “problematic behavior,” the teacher will be disciplined “up to and including discharge.” But what constitutes “problematic behavior” is extremely vague. The contract defines it as “behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations established for professionals working in schools.” The contract’s vague language, according to DiSalvo, “is the kind of thing that could be litigated with grievances.”