Former Rubber Room Teachers May File Grievances

The city's Department of Education says some former rubber room teachers are planning to file grievances because they don't like their new assignments.

The rubber rooms were offices where teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence waited for disciplinary hearings -- often for many months and even years -- continuing to be paid while doing nothing. This past spring the city and the union agreed to place the teachers in Department of Education offices where they could file papers or do other clerical chores in exchange for their paychecks. The rubber rooms were costing the city $30 million a year.

But the Department says it's been notified that some teachers plan to file grievances about their reassignment duties. It says these teachers are now working for the School Construction Authority and have been assigned to duties outside the boroughs where they reside. The United Federation of Teachers didn't have many details yet on their complaints. But it says there are about 10 teachers and that they're from the Bronx and Staten Island.

Two teachers have already complained to WNYC about their assignments at the School Construction Authority. They say they're measuring classrooms all over the city, they find it degrading and object to the traveling. One, who declined to give his name but said we could call him "Dominican Dandy," said he was spending money on gas driving from the Bronx to different schools each day and that he preferred being in the rubber room because at least he knew where he was going each day. He said he had been accused of helping students cheat on a test -- an accusation he denied -- and that he was strongly considering settling his case just to get it over with if he could return to teaching until he hits retirement in a couple of years. The city and the teachers union agreed to speed up the system for due process by hiring more lawyers and arbitrators so that the 700 teachers and staffers who were in rubber rooms as of June would have their hearings by the end of December. A total of 440 teachers are now in reassignment centers.

A Department of Education spokeswoman says she finds it "amazing" that the teachers who are planning grievances think such duties are beneath them. "We made a deal in good faith with the UFT," says the department's communications director, Natalie Ravitz. "We are asking these individuals to do legitimate work while we pay their salaries. The audacity of these grievances is simply mind-boggling."    

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew noted that the agreement calls for reassigned teachers to “perform duties appropriate to their regular assignments, wherever possible” and to be assigned within their own districts or divisions except in “extraordinary circumstances.” While the UFT distanced itself from the matter by noting that it did not initiate the grievances, Mulgrew says "members are always free to file grievances if they feel the Chancellor’s regulations are not being followed." He added, "We negotiated in good faith and expect the DOE to follow their own regulations, which have been in force for a decade."