Teachers Union President Says Don't Blame Us

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew with delegates endorsing John Liu in the Democratic primary for city comptroller.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew with delegates endorsing John Liu in the Democratic primary for city comptroller.

The head of the city teachers union is angry about all the recent press devoted to the so called 'excess pool.' But with almost 2000 paid teachers still without jobs a week before the start of the school year, and a hiring freeze on most new teachers, no one is happy.

Today's Daily News called for a time limit on how long teachers can stay in the excess pool.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew says it's unfair to blame the teachers for an agreement negotiated by the union and by the city. He claims most of the teachers wound up in the pool because their schools were phased out or closed for poor performance, just as their scores started to rise.

'And now because a school closed or was phased down, we're stuck in this position and we're being disparaged in the public by the person we did a good job for. And that gets them quite angry and I understand that anger and I feel it myself,' he told WNYC after endorsing John Liu in the Democratic Primary for City Comptroller.

But the Department of Education says that's not the full story. Spokeswoman Ann Forte says only a few hundred teachers wound up in the Absent Teacher Reserve, or ATR, because their schools were shut. Forte says 1250 of the 2000 teachers in the pool were excessed this summer. And between 850-900 of those were cut for budget reasons. For example, principals who have to reduce the number of English or Social Studies teachers because of declining enrollment, or budget cuts, must let go of the least senior teachers first.

The rest of the pool breaks down this way:

415 were let go within the past 6-12 months
170 were let go more than a year ago
154 have been in the excess pool for more than two years

It's those last two categories - those in the pool for more than a year or two - that have led critics of the school system to claim teachers still in the excess pool must be damaged goods or they would have been hired by now. The Department of Education has offered principals extra financial incentives to hire teachers who have been in the pool since 2006. It's also held job fairs, and resume-writing and interviewing sessions over the summer. The department says about 1000 positions have been filled since the spring.

So why aren't the principals hiring more? Mulgrew claims many of the excess teachers are experienced and that hiring them would cost more money than filing a vacancy with someone who has less experience. Ernest Logan, President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, agrees but says it's more complicated. He says his members are looking for "highly qualified teachers" and that many teachers in the pool don't have licenses that match with specific vacancies such as biology. In other words, it's tough to match openings with job-seekers.

As for recent reports that some principals are waiting it out, hoping the department will lift the hiring freeze so they don't have to take someone from the pool, Logan says that's nonsense. "They understand they are accountable for student achievement," he says, referring to the Department of Education's grading system for schools. "They know there's a risk. Not having a teacher in a classroom, you can't afford to lose days working with children."