By BARBARA MARTINEZ (WSJ)
While schools across New York City have been forced to trim their budgets, the number of teachers who get full salaries and benefits even though they've lost their permanent classroom assignments is expected to rise.
Principals—who are facing an average 4% budget cut at their schools—have started eliminating teaching positions ahead of Friday, when their spending plans are due to the city Department of Education. Those teachers don't stop getting paid; the cost of their salary and benefits merely shifts from their schools' budgets to the department's central office budget. The DOE spent $100 million on these teachers this school year.
There are a little more than 1,000 teachers who have lost their permanent assignments since 2006 but remain on the DOE payroll. "Our best guess is that it will increase" this school year, Joel Klein, the schools chancellor, said in an interview.
The teachers, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, or ATRs, are assigned to schools across the city and perform a variety of jobs, such as substituting or administrative work.
Twenty-six of the ATRs that lost their jobs in 2006 earn more than $100,000 a year in salary, not counting about $30,000 in benefits. Seventy have been working in the school system for 26 or more years. Some could retire, but haven't.
Mr. Klein said he would like to limit how long the DOE pays teachers who can't find permanent jobs, as other cities have done, but hasn't been able to reach an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers.
"Some people prefer not to work, let's not kid ourselves," Mr. Klein said.
A spokesman for the union said "the overwhelming number of ATRs are working every day in schools, many of them as long-term substitutes." He said the "DOE's procedures for linking the ATR teachers with schools have not worked well, even as the system has hired hundreds of new teachers, many of them in the same license areas as teachers in the ATR pool."
The ATRs are different than the teachers in the notorious "rubber rooms," which the city shut down this year. The rubber rooms—which cost the city $3 0 million a year—were populated by more than 500 teachers who had been accused of wrongdoing and removed from their classrooms. The teachers were paid full salaries while their disciplinary cases dragged, and they sat jobless in rooms around the city.
By contrast, the ATRs are not accused of any wrongdoing, but, in the parlance of the school system, they "were excessed," meaning their schools were closed or they lost their permanent assignments when enrollments fell or budgets were trimmed. They are not forced to look for permanent assignments.
While many teachers who lose their jobs in the system quickly find new ones, some end up in the ATR pool for years. More than 900 ATRs were invited to a jo b fair in late June that drew more than 80 schools looking for teachers. The DOE said 90 showed up. Similarly, in May, a job fair for new schools in the system drew 111 of the 1,000 ATRs invited.
The DOE offers schools financial incentives to hire ATRs. That enticed Janet Heller, at Patria Mirabel Middle School 324 in Washington Heights, to look for ATR candidates last year to fill a position. Out of 60 emails or calls put out to ATR candidates, only five responded.
One woman came in for an interview dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, and told Ms. Heller that she wasn't really looking for a new job but that she thought it was a good idea to go on interviews. "I'm appalled at the quality of the personne l that I've come across and their responses and lack of interest," Ms. Heller said. Still, because of hiring restrictions, principals are forced to hire only candidates already within the school system, including ATRs.
Twenty-one percent of the ATRs have had at least one "unsatisfactory" rating since 2005. In the general city teacher population, only 3% have been rated "unsatisfactory" since then.
Many teachers are worried about wading into the ATR pool. Ira Geringer, an art and technology teacher, learned he lost his position a few weeks ago and was at a fair in June talking to recruiters. Mr. Geringer, who has had three interviews since then and has another Thursday, still doesn't have a job.
"I don't want to end up in the ATR," he said. "You're basically a sub. You don't have any kids you could call your own."
Write to Barbara Martinez at Barbara.Martinez@wsj.com