September 6, 2011
The Department of Education could potentially be doing more to help teachers whose positions have been eliminated find new jobs.
That’s one conclusion of an audit conducted by Comptroller John Liu of the DOE’s efforts to help members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers whose jobs were lost to budget cuts, enrollment changes, or school closures. The audit concluded that the vast majority of ATRs — 95 percent — are working full-time in teaching jobs, but that the department doesn’t maintain data sufficient to conclude whether its efforts to help the teachers find permanent positions are paying off.
“Without such information, we believe that DOE is significantly hindered in its ability to evaluate the success of its efforts in helping ATR teachers find permanent positions,” the report concludes.
The audit is not meant to dictate policy and is intended only to draw attention to what the report said was an information gap within the DOE on the ATR pool.
But an unwritten conclusion also seems to be that the city is wasting money by hiring new teachers when ATRs are licensed to do the job.
Two charts billboard the number of positions for which ATRs were eligible that instead were filled by new teachers. Last year, the audit documents, 1,796 new teachers were hired for positions that 273 ATRs could have filled, the charts show. The report estimates that the city could have saved $12.4 million if all 273 ATRs had filled the positions for which they were eligible, and the city hired 273 fewer new teachers.
Under the principle of “mutual consent,” adopted in the 2005 teachers contract, teachers gave up the right to claim positions without principals’ approval, and the city gave up the right to place teachers unilaterally into open positions. The change gave principals more control of their staffs but also created the ATR pool.
In a response appended to the audit, the DOE’s deputy chancellor in charge of human capital, David Weiner, says the charts signal that the comptroller would prefer that the city abandon mutual consent in favor of forced placement.
The audit’s “analysis regards teachers not as individual professionals with unique strengths and/or weaknesses as candidates for teaching jobs in unique schools, but rather as fungible, replaceable parts,” Weiner wrote. He echoed language in the 2009 “Widget Effect” report by The New Teacher Project, which has urged the city to save money by terminating teachers in the ATR pool.
A spokesman for Liu said the charts are merely food for thought in a 20-page audit intended to spur the department to gather and crunch more data about the ATR pool.
“There may be cost-effective ways for placing ATR teachers that the DOE may not have considered,” said Matt Sweeney, a Liu spokesman. “One of the audit functions is to provide the agency as much information as possible that it may have overlooked.”
Other interesting data points uncovered in the audit: the DOE sometimes assigns ATRs back to the schools where they originally worked, despite a policy prohibiting that practice; no formal review took place before the DOE decided to eliminate salary subsidies for principals who hired teachers from the ATR pool; and more than 300 teachers in the pool as of March 1 had landed there after settling or being cleared of misconduct charges, likely many after the city rushed to close the “rubber rooms” several months earlier.
Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said the audit vindicated the union, which has always said that teachers in the ATR pool were pulling their weight within the system.
“[Ex-]Chancellor [Joel] Klein’s constant public pronouncement that this was costing the city $100 million was fraudulent and that’s the nicest way that I can say it,” he said.
Mulgrew said the biggest force keeping teachers in the ATR pool is the fact that DOE charges principals for the real salaries of their teachers, creating a disincentive to hire senior teachers when newer ones are available.
The ATR audit is one of several audits that Liu undertook into the DOE after a series of town-hall meetings where New Yorkers suggested topics for investigation. At least three other DOE audits are expected to be released this month, according to Crain’s New York.