Anna Phillips is a staff reporter at GothamSchools.
After years of trying through various proposals, city officials have abandoned plans to negotiate with the union for the removal of some 830 teachers who do not have permanent jobs, but are still salaried, costing the city millions of dollars each year. Instead, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott proposed on Thursday to offer buyouts to those teachers to leave the system.
Mr. Walcott did not name his price, but in a speech before the Association for a Better New York, he said the amount would be "generous," and would exceed teacher buyouts in such cities as Dallas and Washington. The chancellor also vowed to bypass stalled negotiations with the city's teachers' union over a new evaluation system. If there is no agreement by fall, he said, the city's Department of Education would remove and try to fire any teacher who received two consecutive ratings of "unsatisfactory."
"In my view, if you are one of the few hundred teachers who gets poorly rated for two years in a row, you don't deserve to teach in our schools and in front of our students," he said a speech full of blunt terms. "We will move forward, whether or not the union decides to join us."
How to solve the problem of unassigned teachers has long been a battleground issue for city education officials and the union, the United Federation of Teachers. Although both sides agreed to the current situation, which is embedded in the union contract, each blames the other for the large number of teachers in the "absent teacher reserve" pool, made up of teachers who lost their school assignments through budget cuts or school closings. The pool currently has about 830 teachers, but if the buyout were offered today, only the 475 who have been in the pool for at least a year would be eligible. But by fall, city officials expect most teachers in the pool would meet this requirement.
Nearly a quarter of the teachers in the pool have been without regular teaching assignments for at least two years and 44 percent have never submitted a job application online or attended a city recruitment event. The teachers' union has claimed that the stigma of being in the pool has prevented good teachers from being offered permanent assignments, but city officials and some principals have said that many of the teachers are mediocre.
They are used as substitutes throughout the system wherever they are needed.
On Thursday, Mr. Walcott said the $100 million or so the city spends on these teachers and other school employees' salaries amounted to "wasting it on teachers who probably chose the wrong profession."
While former Chancellor Joel I. Klein publicly pressured the union to limit the amount of time teachers could remain on the city's books without a permanent placement, the union resisted and suggested buyouts.
The president of the union, Michael Mulgrew, said he had approached leaders of the school system as well as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg with the idea of buyouts several times and was repeatedly turned down.
"All I heard for a couple of years was how they were philosophically opposed to it," Mr. Mulgrew said. "I'm happy they're having a change of heart."
It is unclear exactly how much it would cost to persuade a teacher to resign, and Mr. Mulgrew would not suggest an amount, but the ultimate offer does require union approval.
In Dallas, the school district gave teachers $10,000 to resign by the end of the last school year. In Washington, teachers who lose their jobs but have good evaluations can take a $25,000 buyout. New York City officials said they expected their buyout proposal to exceed those figures.
The second half of Mr. Walcott's speech touched on another longstanding problem for the city: how to oust poorly rated teachers from public school classrooms — an area in which the Education Department has made little progress.
In February, the union and city officials signed onto a statewide teacher evaluation system that would accelerate the removal of poorly rated teachers, but they have yet to agree on the details of how it would function in New York City.
Taking a page from Mr. Bloomberg's State of the City address, Mr. Walcott proposed to circumvent talks with the union and remove teachers with two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings. Last year, only 2.7 percent of teachers were given unsatisfactory ratings, or "U's" as they are commonly called. And even when the city does try to fire teachers, it has encountered significant obstacles.
Currently, just 104 teachers who have been rated unsatisfactory for two consecutive years are still teaching.
Mr. Mulgrew said the city already had the ability to remove and start firing proceedings for low-rated teachers, but had left it to the discretion of principals. Some teachers have complained that the ratings carry too much weight and are sometimes given by principals who are vindictive. Peter Lamphere, a high school teacher in Queens, said he received U ratings in 2008 and 2009 when he worked at the Bronx High School of Science. One has since been overturned, and Mr. Lamphere is now in court challenging the second. Under Mr. Walcott's proposal, he would have had to go through a removal hearing.
"To me, the whole thing is ridiculous," Mr. Lamphere said. Last year, his principal rated him satisfactory.
Mr. Walcott also promised not to place elementary school students in classrooms with teachers rated unsatisfactory for two consecutive years. City officials said there were currently 3,939 students in kindergarten to fifth grade being taught by a teacher rated unsatisfactory, and next fall principals will be instructed not to assign these children to a second teacher with a low rating. The policy would not apply to middle or high school students.
"If we truly believe that every student deserves a great teacher, then we can't accept a system where a student suffers with a poor-performing one for two straight years," Mr. Walcott said.