Analysis

NYC Numbers Show City’s Unassigned Teachers Paid $10,000 More on Average Than Those Teaching Kids Full Time

By Beth Hawkins | August 20, 2017

 

Corrected Aug. 21

New York City's Absent Teacher Reserve pool is made up of teachers who lost their jobs through budget cuts, school closures, poor performance ratings or disciplinary issues. An earlier headline and wording in the story incorrectly equated the ATR with the so-called rubber room, which involves teachers who have been removed from the classroom for incompetence or misconduct.

 
Could the higher-than-imagined average salaries of teachers not in classrooms but drawing full-time wages give New York City schools officials a budget-healing incentive to raise buyout offers?

Perhaps, but that’s not the Department of Education’s first solution to reducing the number of teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, made up of teachers who lost their jobs through budget cuts, school closures, poor performance ratings or disciplinary issues. 

The ATR pool has made headlines through the years, as city parents have protested its use and advocacy groups have demanded greater transparency about how much tax revenue is being diverted to teachers who do not teach. A sampling of recent articles:

  • Absent Teacher Reserve cost New York City $151.6 million this past school year (Read more)
     
  • NYC Refuses to Provide Information About Educators in ‘Absent Teacher Reserve,’ Advocates Claim (Read more)
     
  • Open Letter From a NYC Parent: Stop Transferring Ineffective Teachers to Our Low-Income Schools (Read more)

But the pool is now once again front-page news following the July announcement that the department will begin reducing the reserve, which currently contains more than 800 teachers, by placing teachers from the pool in jobs that are still vacant in October.

The assignments, known as forced placements in many districts, will take place without the consent of the principals. Some 400 teachers may be moved out of the pool this way, sparking fears that a disproportionate share will be placed in impoverished schools that struggle to attract and retain teachers. (TNTP CEO Daniel Weisberg decried the decision in a recent essay, noting that “schools across the city will face an influx of teachers with records of poor performance.”)

Chancellor Fariña reverses course

Three years ago, Chancellor Carmen Fariña vowed not to force principals to accept teachers they didn’t want or teachers to take jobs they didn’t want. The district last month said it can’t afford to continue that policy.

Under pressure from news media and with the new school year some three weeks away, the New York City Department of Education released new information on Friday about the cost and makeup of the pool.

Among the surprises: The average salary of teachers in the pool is $94,000 a year, which is $10,000 more than the system-wide average.

Adding in benefits, teachers in the pool received more than $116,000 in compensation. By way of comparison, the base salary for teachers in the district is $54,000.

The relatively high average salaries of teachers in the pool has sparked dueling arguments. Education Department officials have countered contentions that the more senior salaries are a disincentive to hiring pool teachers by offering to subsidize the cost to schools.

Conversely, others have suggested that the $150 million cost of the pool—much higher than the $100 million estimate previously released—might prod department officials to increase the buyout offers available to pool teachers from $50,000.

By the numbers: Meet the teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve

Among the figures released by the department:

  • One-fourth of the 822 teachers in the pool were in it five years ago—though not necessarily continuously—and nearly half were on reserve at the end of the 2014–2015 school year.
     
  • The largest portion, 38 percent, are in the pool because their schools were closed, and 30 percent are because of budget cuts.
     
  • One-third (32 percent) are there following legal or disciplinary accusations.
     
  • Although three-fourths were rated “satisfactory” in 2015–2016, 12 percent received the lowest possible evaluations.
     
  • According to a 2014 analysis, 30 percent received unsatisfactory evaluations. To put that in perspective, the same year 93 percent of the city’s teacher corps overall was rated effective or highly effective.
     
  • The recession, coupled with the closure of some small high schools promoted by former chancellor Joel Klein, boosted the number of pool teachers. Buyouts significantly reduced size of the pool, which two years ago topped 1,900.
     
  • The district earlier in the summer had balked at providing data on the pool’s overall cost, but it estimated the average wages and benefits of pool members to be $100,000, a $13 million miscalculation. Information released Friday did not explain the rest of the difference between the past estimate of $100 million and the current price tag of $150 million.

 

The pool is the result of a 2005 agreement between the United Federation of Teachers and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Before the pool’s creation, senior teachers could displace junior ones without the consent of the principal. On his way out of office in 2010, Klein, Bloomberg’s chancellor of education, pushed for an end to the pool.

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