Friday, January 31, 2014
Why We Must Eliminate The ATR Pool
One of the more shameful policies implemented by the Bloomberg Administration was the establishment of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool where teachers, guidance counselors, and social workers were excessed from the 161 closing schools or survived the bogus 3020-a process, usually initiated by vindictive principals who targeted teachers they didn't like or want. Over the many years the DOE, due to their ideological policy, wasted between 100 and 200 million dollars annually by keeping these excessed educators from the classroom, except as substitute teachers or temporary replacements. In the last three years, thanks, in part to our union, the DOE came up with the idiotic ATR rotation system that has turned out to be a waste of time, money, and demoralized many an ATR as being worthless. In an era of rising class sizes, overcrowded classrooms, and the lack of "quality teachers", having over 2,000 ATRs, with most of them rotating weekly, is a complete waste of talent. Moreover, by placing ATRs back into the classroom, the "productivity savings" of $160 million dollars yearly will help to provide cover for the City on the new contract.
In the beginning the DOE/UFT ATR committee acted in complete secrecy and the two union members on this committee were the recently retired Michael Mandel and now AFT policy person and chief propagandist of the 2005 contract, Leo Casey. Neither Mr. Mandel or Mr Casey ever bothered to meet with any of the over 2,000 ATRs and ask them their opinion about how the ATR program should work and what they would like to see changed. Instead these two uncaring clowns decided that the weekly ATR rotation system was a wonderful idea that would force principals to hire ATRs rather than lose them. How wrong they were! The result was that the ATRs became traveling gypsies and many of the resigned or retired rather than submit to the indignity of being a "babysitter" and disrespected by administrators, staff, and students of the school they were assigned to. Over 90% who were given "provisional contract" for the school year found that they were not welcomed back the next year since the DOE's "fair student funding" formula made it difficult for principals to hire them without taking a major budget hit.
Now the ATR committee is lead by Amy Arundell and Michael Sill and have brought with them a less secretive and refreshingly open approach with regard to the ATR situation. They have reached out to selected ATRs and formed an ATR advisory committee to provide input into the process. Yes, I am on this committee and while I cannot say if our recommendations will actually be the union's position when they talk to the DOE under the De Blasio/Farina Administration, I am hopeful that they will be and the ATR pool will be just a bad memory next school year.
The question is what should the union's position be when it comes to the ATR pool? Eliminate it! Here are my suggestions on just how to do that.
First, all staff funding must be put back into the hands of the DOE and away from the schools. Under the "fair student funding" formula principals are encouraged to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers". The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) hiring "newbie teachers" are not considered "highly qualified" and despite the Tweed rhetoric, it's budget first and children last. That perverse policy needs to end. Teacher hiring should be based on units and not based on salary considerations. This will allow schools to reduce class sizes and obtain "quality teachers" that they presently do not have.
Second, impose a complete hiring freeze until all excessed teachers are placed within a district in their content specialty, no exceptions! Included in this hiring freeze would be a prohibition for principals to use teachers to teach out of license which is commonly done at present.
Third, have the DOE provide principals who have vacancies a list of all ATRs by seniority rank in their license area. The most senior ATR should have the right to interview for any vacancy in his or her district with the final hiring decision kept into the hands of the Principal once the Principal had interviewed up to but no more than three ATRs. Any Principal found hiding or refuses to hire for a vacancy should lose funding for the vacancy for that year and receive a disciplinary letter to their file to remind them not to do it again.
Fourth, any ATR not selected for a vacancy will be placed in any remaining vacancy in the District or work in a school as a "push in " teacher in their content specialty at a school that both the ATR and Superintendent agree upon as a "good fit". This will minimize "forced placements".
Fifth, have buyouts. However, I don't expect the buyout offers to be generous enough to have many takers. A minimum of two years, with pension credit might entice more ATRs to take a buyout but I think if a buyout is offered it will be a maximum of one year in salary (probably six months) and no pension credit.
Finally, all ATRs filling a vacancy will sign a "provisional contract" that gives both the ATR and Principal the time to see if its a "good fit" for both. It also allows the flexibility or both parties to decide if the ATR will stay in the school and obtain his or her seniority for school excessing the following year.
I will need to remind my fellow ATRs that we signed up to be teachers and that means that we should be in the classroom and making a positive difference in the children's lives. For the minority of ATRs who prefer going week to week to different schools I must question if you're in the right profession. Even the "worst schools" need quality teachers and it's our responsibility to lead by example. You can disagree with me but we are teachers, guidance counselors, and social workers and we are in this profession to help the children be productive adults. Going weekly to different schools and "babysitting" doesn't help the students and that's what is most important and that's why all ATRs must be placed back into the classrooms to improve student academic outcomes..
You can agree or disagree with me but that's how I see it.