One of the most thorny issue between the Union and the City is the status of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR). These are teachers that have been excessed from their schools and have no classroom position. The latest number of ATRs is 1,822, which is similar to the last few year numbers. It was fortunate that the union won the turnaround battle, otherwise the ATR numbers would be close to 3,000. The question is what is the future of the ATR? Well I do not have a crystal bail and cannot project the future but it appears to me the the ATR is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Lets look at the issues surrounding the ATR problem.
Time Limit: Presently, there are no time limitations to be an ATR. In the agreement worked out between the union and the City both sides agreed that the Principals can hire who they wanted rather then from the excess teachers list as long as the DOE paid the excessed teacher's salary until the excessed teacher received a classroom position. Even before the ink had dried, Chancellor Joel Klein was calling the ATRs "bad teachers" to the press and wanted a time limit of six months when the DOE can fire the teachers. To the union's credit, the ATR time limit has never been a negotiable item and every time the City brings it up, the union immediately shoots it down. I see no change in the union position and the lesson of Chicago burns brightly to remind the union of the consequences of allowing an ATR time limit.
ATR Buyout: It now appears that Chancellor Dennis Walcott's idea of a generous buyout for long-term ATRs was not so generous after all. The maximum ATR buyout would be $25,000 for top salaried teachers and would average a meagerly $14,000 for the average ATR. Not generous at all! It would seem an ATR buyout is not happening during the Bloomberg Administration but might reappear when the the next Mayor negotiates with the union as part of a contract.
Legislative Action: I do look for the Bloomberg Administration to make one final attempt by crafting a bill that will allow for an ATR time limit, emboldened by Chicago's limiting the ATR window to five months. However, I expect the bill to be shot down as the Mayor is rapidly losing influence in his "lame duck year". Of course if in the highly unlikely event that Sheldon Silver loses his position as head of the State Assembly that could change matters somewhat.
ATR Non-Representation: One of the biggest complaints by ATRs is that they have no representation and I do not see that changing in the near future. The union's position is that the school's Chapter Leader represents the ATR. However, since the ATRs go weekly to different schools, the Chapter Leader may not meet with the ATR or be even aware of who the ATR is. Many schools abuse the ATRs by making them do cafeteria duty, six periods, four periods in a row, or other non-teacher duties and the Chapter Leader refuses to represent the ATR complaints dealing with the abuse. This is especially true in the Bloomberg small schools where teachers are expected to preform duties that violate the contract and the Chapter Leader willingly goes along with it.
ATR Numbers: It is very obvious that both the City and union do not like or want the public to know how many ATRs there are. After claiming that the ATR numbers are the lowest in years, suggesting that the ATR crises was resolving itself with the successful policies of weekly ATR assignments and requiring principals to hire ATRs for their vacancies or long-term leave replacements. It now turns out that the numbers are just as high, if not higher then in previous years. In fact the union's failure to enforce the provisions of the ATR Agreement and the DOE deliberately ignoring Principals misconduct for not abiding by the ATR Agreement is primarily responsible for the large ATR numbers. While the union won a grievance, there still is no enforceability or penalties if the DOE fails to abide by the ATR contract provisions. Therefore, I predict no significant change in the ATR numbers in the coming years. In fact, they may go up if Bloomberg is successful in closing more schools before he leaves office.
The ATR And The Next Mayor: This is certainly the "wild card" since the next Mayor is still an unknown. However, it is safe to assume that the next Mayor and the union will settle on a contract and it will have an effect on the future of the ATR. In the "best case scenario" the next Mayor will not want to waste $160 million dollars annually and will require the DOE to place the ATRs in vacancies rather than let principals hide them or hire outside teachers. A more realistic scenario would be that the next Mayor and the union will enforce the ATR Agreement provisions and reducing the ATR pool significantly while savings money. Of course this assumes that the next Mayor will replace many of the top bureaucrats at Tweed who are responsible for the current ATR fiasco.
Future Of The ATR: Unfortunately, the ATR is here to stay. However, I do see better days ahead as the ATR numbers will be reduced with the next Mayor and with enforcement provisions in place and better union support to ensure principals are not abusing the system. At least I hope so.
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