Hundreds Still Not Placed
Transfers Lead To Teacher Turmoil
By MEREDITH KOLODNER
Hundreds of veteran Teachers from the re-organized District 79 will work as permanent substitutes for the foreseeable future, even as thousands of new Teachers have secured full-time jobs around the city.
"It's an affront to Teachers that served these students who are very bright and very needy," said Carolyn Mollica, who won Outstanding Teacher of the Year at a District 79 Bronx school last year and will be an ATR at Bayside High School starting in September.
District 79 schools serve older students who have not been able to complete their studies at traditional high schools. They include GED programs as well as schools for incarcerated and suspended youth. DOE officials said the reorganization was necessary because the schools were performing poorly.
United Federation of Teachers officials said they repeatedly expressed willingness to work with the DOE to make necessary changes.
"Those programs could have been completely filled up," said Michael Mulgrew, UFT vice president for career and tech education and alternative high schools. "You can't blame the Teachers for your mismanagement. This is the most difficult population, and these Teachers wanted to work with them."
Ms. Mollica and several of her colleagues believe that the reorganization has targeted older Teachers, hoping to push them towards retirement. She and several other Teachers reported that the majority of those who showed up in Long Island City last week to receive their ATR appointments were over 40 years old and had more than a decade of experience. They believe the DOE is trying to save money by pushing out veteran Teachers who have higher salaries. "They can get two for the price of one," said Ms. Mollica, 63. "But I'm not ready to retire. If I'm enthusiastic and I love my job, why should I leave?"
The UFT negotiated a hiring process with the city that included specific criteria by which hiring decisions would be made. Those criteria included attendance records, job performance and licensing, and varied by position.
Can File Grievances
A committee composed of DOE and UFT officials made decisions about whether Teachers who applied met the criteria, although Mr. Mulgrew advised any Teacher who believed the process was unfair to file a grievance. The UFT also convinced the DOE to hire 100 percent of the Teachers deemed qualified into the available slots. In most school closings, the city is only required to hire 50 percent of Teachers who meet the criteria. Teachers who received an unsatisfactory rating within the past three years were not allowed to apply.
Some Teachers did not want to take a chance with the District 79 process and found jobs in other parts of the city. "I went crazy looking for a job," said Jeff Kauffman, who taught at District 79 Second Opportunity School and this week will start at a high school in Brooklyn. "I didn't trust how it would all work." The hiring process was supposed to commence after July 4, but the interviews didn't begin until August. Some Teachers, who say they were committed to staying in District 79, were interviewed as late as last week. When they were turned down, it left them little time to seek other jobs.
'Joke' of an Interview
LezAnne Edmund, who has taught GED classes for 11 years, wanted to continue to work with the same population of students, but didn't get an interview until two weeks ago. "I got a phone interview that lasted maybe 12 minutes," she said last week as she waited for her ATR assignment. "I had to answer how I would instruct a certain groups of students in a certain scenario. It was almost a joke."
DOE officials said the late start to the interview process was due to delays by the union. UFT President Randi Weingarten took sharp exception to that claim. "They come up with a plan at the end of May and think they're going to reorganize all this stuff and treat people as chattel, and they didn't expect their union was going to say you can't do it like this?" she asked.
UFT officials said the agreement was done by the end of June but that the DOE mishandled the implementation. They said DOE officials failed to show up at interviews and that Teachers had to enter their placement preferences twice over a space of several weeks into DOE's computer system. The glitches were so widespread, however, that the union insisted that the DOE see all the ATRs in person in Queens last week so they could once again lodge their preferences and ensure that they got placed in one of them. "This is not the Mayor," said Ms. Weingarten. "This is a district being run by someone who decided she knew much better than the Teachers how to teach at-risk kids, and this is the mess that got created."
Had Some Latitude
Teachers assigned to be ATRs were allowed to choose a group of schools they preferred to work in and were placed based on seniority and need of the school. They will continue to be paid their full salary.
Even some of the Teachers who secured jobs within District 79 said the timing of the reorganization and hiring decisions was going to make the start of school chaotic.
"I have no books, and I have no idea what I'm going to be teaching," said Rosalind Panepento, who will be teaching at one of the revamped GED programs in Manhattan.
Ms. Panepento, who was the UFT chapter chair of the Auxiliary Services for High Schools and has taught for 35 years, said she feared that the city would try to use the growing number of ATRs to get rid of Teachers. During the last round of bargaining, the city proposed laying off Teachers who had been excessed for more than 18 months. "Luckily, the union held strong against it," she said, "but I think that's what they're going for."
Fears Impact on Kids
Mr. Kauffman said that he is happy with his new placement, preferring it to his old school where he said most of the staff had ongoing problems with the administrators. But he said he was concerned that all of the changes, coming as late as they did, would have an adverse impact on District 79 students.
"These kids don't need another disincentive to not come to school," he said. "They see a disorganized classroom and school, and they're gone."