Few Teachers Bite at Buyouts

Less than 10 percent of teachers and other staffers without permanent assignments opted for buyouts this fall, under a new agreement negotiated between the union and the city's Department of Education. The severance package was offered to employees in the Absent Teacher Reserve who lost their positions, yet continue to work indefinitely as substitutes while receiving their full salaries.

These staffers have long been a source of tension because they cost the city more than $100 million annually, and some of the teachers have been floating around the system for years without landing new permanent positions. The new teachers contract offered them up to 10 weeks of severance as an encouragement to leave the system. The Department of Education said a total of 115 people took the packages, including 97 teachers. As of the end of June, the ATR pool consisted of 1131 teachers, plus almost 200 other titles represented by the union.

Despite what appeared to be a tepid response to the severance package, the Department said the loss of these 115 employees will save the city $15 million in the coming year alone, including their fringe benefits. Those who left were more experienced employees who earned $93,000 annually, on average.

The Department said Thursday that each buyout is worth about $16,000 on average. The union had rejected more generous buyout offers in previous years. Nonetheless, union President Michael Mulgrew stood by the agreement.

“Most teachers are in the ATR pool because their school closed or their program was phased out," he said, adding, "the buyout process was a way to leave the system.”

The Department would not say how many of those who took the buyouts were eligible to retire. It also said the buyouts represent the first in a series of steps to reduce the Absent Teacher Reserve. Once school starts, it's planning to interview and place the teachers in permanent openings, while giving principals the opportunity to reject them if they don't work out. There are procedures to speed up the process to remove these teachers if they are written up for any problematic behaviors.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said this deal "is mutually beneficial for the DOE by reducing spending and for the teachers who have chosen to leave."

The group StudentsFirstNY, which is often critical of the union, issued a statement expressing its disappointment with the buyouts because most of the teachers will return to classrooms this fall.

"It is surprising that the Department of Education would celebrate the return of 1,100 ineffective teachers back into the classrooms of our most vulnerable children," said Executive Director Jenny Sedlis. "Today’s announcement demonstrates that the DOE is not serious about ensuring that every child is taught by a quality teacher. Had they been, there's a simple solution: limit the time unwanted teachers can collect a paycheck."

The group has pointed to past data showing a large number of these teachers in the ATR pool have unsatisfactory ratings. WNYC has repeatedly asked the Department of Education for updated numbers of those with poor ratings, and their length of time in the pool, but attorneys have said they needed more time to answer our request.