Absent Teacher Reserve Costs $136 Million and Needs Reform
On June 16, 2018 members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) will receive a 3 percent raise, the final salary increase under the current labor contract which expires this November.1 This increase follows a 2 percent raise that took effect on May 1, 2018. These raises also go to teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR)—a pool of teachers without permanent classroom assignments who nevertheless continue to receive full pay.2 Continuing to pay teachers in the ATR will cost the City $136 million in this school year. The City should pursue reforms to the ATR, such as a six-month time limit, in upcoming labor negotiations with the UFT.
Establishment of the ATR
The ATR is a pool of teachers and other UFT members who were “excessed” from permanent school positions; that is their positions were eliminated due to school closings, enrollment declines, budget cuts, or other reasons that do not provide direct cause for terminating employment under the current contract.3 ATR teachers may be assigned to work as substitute teachers or to perform administrative duties.
The ATR was created in 2005 during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Administration in order to give principals greater control over hiring decisions. Previously, teacher contracts included provisions under which excessed teachers were placed in other schools. Senior teachers were able to select the school to transfer into, often displacing more junior teachers and infringing upon a principal’s discretion over staffing.4 These seniority protections were eliminated in the 2003-2007 contract, with the guarantee that excessed teachers would continue to receive full pay while looking for a new position.
The Size and Cost of the ATR
The number of teachers in the ATR fluctuates over the course of a school year, but overall the ATR has increased in both size and cost since it was established. The pool is often largest at the beginning of the school year, decreasing as teachers secure permanent positions during the school year. However, there is also a substantial share of teachers who remain in the ATR for many years; in 2017 one-quarter of teachers in the ATR were there five years earlier.5 Some research indicates that some ATR teachers do not actively seek job opportunities, have some unsatisfactory observations in their files, or both.6
The earliest available public data indicate there were 788 teachers in the ATR at the start of the 2006 school year; by the end of that year only 372 remained. The ATR grew rapidly as principals began to exercise greater discretion over staffing and school closures became more frequent.7 By the start of the 2008 school year there were 1,395 employees in the ATR at a cost of $74 million, which grew further to 1,676 by the start of the 2014 school year.8 At the beginning of 2018 school year there were 1,202 employees in the ATR at a cost of $136 million, and by April 2018 there were 756 employees left.9
In addition to more personnel, the ATR has grown in cost because its teachers are generally more senior and continue to receive contractual salary increases—even though they are not working. On average, ATR teachers have 18 years of service and a salary of $98,126, compared to 10.2 years and 84,108 salary for NYC teachers overall.10 The City and the UFT agreed to a contract that increased wages 19 percent between November 1, 2009 and November 30, 2018. The last raise to be granted under this agreement will be 3 percent on June 16, 2018, bringing the maximum teacher salary to $119,472.11
Table 1 shows the salary and longevity payments (additional compensation based on seniority) for a teacher with 18 years of service, the ATR average, in May 2008 and June 2018, as well as longevity payments for 20 and 22 years of service. Longevity payments are substantial for senior teachers. The longevity increase for a teacher with 18 years of service will reach $14,084 this month. Going from 18 years of service to 20 years will increase the longevity payment by $10,285 to $24,369. Stepping up to 22 years of service will increase the longevity payment by an additional $5,787 to $30,156. (See Figure 1 for the salary range for teachers with 18 to 22 years of service.)
Strategies of the de Blasio Administration to Reduce the ATR
The higher salary, coupled with possibly poorer performance, can be a disincentive to principals to hire from the pool since they need to fund teacher salaries from their school budgets.12 School budgets are mainly set by formula based on student demographics and not dependent on the salaries of teachers.13 In other words, the budget of a school will not increase or decrease if an ATR teacher is hired by the school; instead the school would pay the teacher’s salary from its predetermined school budget.14
The Department of Education (DOE) initially offered budgetary incentives to principals to hire ATR teachers, such as paying the salary centrally for the first year or covering the difference between the actual and average salary.15 Most recently these efforts are credited with principals hiring 372 ATR teachers in the 2017 school year.
Second, the City offered two separation incentives. These incentives provide additional compensation for ATR teachers who elect to resign or retire during a specified timeframe. The 2014 separation incentive followed labor negotiations with the UFT and resulted in 115 teachers leaving City service. The incentive payout cost $1.8 million (about $16,000 per teacher), and the savings were estimated at $11 million a year (about $93,000 per teacher). The 2018 separation incentive offered ATR teachers a lump sum payment of $50,000 for resigning or retiring; 170 teachers took advantage of this initiative, at a cost of $8.5 million.16 The savings from the 2018 round was approximately $23 million a year, or about $140,000 per teacher (including fringe benefits).
Third, since fall 2017 the City has placed ATR teachers in schools with vacancies without prior approval from principals. Some oppose this effort, calling it forced placement and arguing that ATR teachers are being placed in the City’s neediest schools.17 As of February 2018, 75 teachers were placed generating savings of $7 million a year by fiscal year 2020.18 This fell short of the target of placing 400 teachers, which may suggest a lack of appropriate vacancies or difficulty securing full-time placement in the classroom for certain teachers in the ATR.
Approaches to Excessed Teachers in Other School Districts
Other cities have successfully ended seniority rights without creating new entitlements; for example, Chicago and Washington, D.C. have imposed limits on paying excessed teachers.19 In Chicago excessed teachers are in a pool for up to 10 months while searching for a new position, and are terminated if they have not secured one within that timeframe.20 In Washington, D.C., teachers who are excessed have 60 days to find a new permanent position. Those who do not find a position and have unsatisfactory performance ratings are terminated, while those with satisfactory performance ratings are given the option to take a lump sum payment of $25,000, retire, or have an additional year to look for a position after which they would be terminated.21
Upcoming UFT Labor Negotiations Should Eliminate the ATR
In November 2018 the UFT contract will expire and another contract with additional raises will be negotiated. Since the terms of the ATR are in the contract, the City should use this round of negotiations to constrain, or preferably eliminate, the ATR.22 Time in the ATR should be capped at six months.24
By offering full pay, raises, step increases, and longevity increases, the ATR provides no incentive for unmotivated or unsuitable teachers to secure new permanent placements. The ATR should be a temporary stop, not an unlimited job guarantee.
- New York City Office of Labor Relations, UFT – NYC Memorandum of Agreement, 2009-2018 (April 2014), http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/olr/downloads/pdf/collectivebargaining/cbu-uft-moa-042914.pdf.
- The ATR can include non-teaching staff such as social workers, guidance counselors, and assistant principals. For ease, this blog refers to all employees in the ATR as teachers.
- The UFT contract and State Education Law detail specific processes for terminating teachers; being excessed from a school is not a reason for termination.
- Under seniority provisions a teacher could choose to transfer to a certain school and bump a less senior teacher currently working there outside the purview of the principal. See: Timothy Daly and others, Mutual Benefits: New York City’s Shift to Mutual Consent in Teacher Hiring (The New Teacher Project, April 29, 2008), https://tntp.org/assets/documents/MutualBenefits.pdf.
- Kate Taylor, “Caught Sleeping or Worse, Troubled Teachers Will Return to New York Classrooms,” New York Times (October 13, 2017), www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/nyregion/troubled-teachers-back-in-classrooms-new-york.html.
- Timothy Daly and others, Mutual Benefits: New York City’s Shift to Mutual Consent in Teacher Hiring (The New Teacher Project, April 29, 2008), https://tntp.org/assets/documents/MutualBenefits.pdf; and Kate Taylor, “Caught Sleeping or Worse, Troubled Teachers Will Return to New York Classrooms,” New York Times (October 13, 2017), www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/nyregion/troubled-teachers-back-in-classrooms-new-york.html.
- Since June 2006, 172 schools have been closed. Under Mayor Bloomberg, 100 schools were closed between school years 2005 and 2013. An additional 72 were closed under Mayor de Blasio from school year 2014 through 2018. The City reports 68 percent of teachers in the ATR are there due to schools closings, declining enrollment, or budget reductions. See: New York City Department of Education, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs: School Closure Discharge Report (accessed June 7, 2018), http://schools.nyc.gov/community/city/publicaffairs/SchoolClosureDischarge.htm?wbc_purpose=basic&WBCMODE=%2FContactusC%3F%3F%3Fan%3D21607%3Fpn%3D, Panel for Educational Policy: February 28 2018 School Proposals (accessed June 7, 2018), http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/leadership/PEP/publicnotice/2017-2018/February282018SchoolProposals, and Panel for Educational Policy: March 22 2017 School Proposals (accessed June 7, 2018), http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/leadership/PEP/publicnotice/2016-2017/March222017SchoolProposals; New York City Independent Budget Office, Traditional Public Schools: Openings and Closings, 2002-2003 Through 2014-2015 (accessed June 7, 2018), http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/buildings-and-schools-2017.html; and Amy Zimmer, “City Hopes to Halve Ranks of Teachers Without Permanent Positions,” DNA Info (August 22, 2017), www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170821/civic-center/absent-teacher-reserve-rubber-room.
- Timothy Daly and others, Mutual Benefits: New York City’s Shift to Mutual Consent in Teacher Hiring (The New Teacher Project, April 29, 2008), https://tntp.org/assets/documents/MutualBenefits.pdf.
- City of New York, Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, email to Citizens Budget Commission staff (February 15, 2018).
- Average years of service and salary based on 75,386 active teachers and special education teachers at the Department of Education as of June 30, 2017. City of New York, Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, email to Citizens Budget Commission staff (February 15, 2018); and CBC staff analysis of City of New York Office of Payroll Administration, Open Data, “Citywide Payroll Data (Fiscal Year)” (accessed October 3, 2017).
- United Federation of Teachers, Salary Schedules for 2009-2018 Contract (accessed March 20, 2018), www.uft.org/files/attachments/secure/teacher-schedule-2009-2018.pdf.
- Twelve percent of teachers in the ATR received the lowest effectiveness ratings, compared to 1 percent of all teachers. See: KateTaylor, “New York City Planned to Put 400 Teachers in Jobs. It’s Placed 41.” New York Times (December 7, 2017), www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/nyregion/absent-teacher-reserve-placement-nyc.html.
- Historically average teacher salaries were associated with higher school budgets. With the implementation of Fair Student Funding the majority of school budgets were formula driven based on the characteristics of students. The principal is given discretion in spending those funds, including selecting teachers. For example, a principal could spend $700,000 on 10 teachers at $70,000 or 8 teachers at $87,500. However, because of historical differences in teacher salaries, implementation of Fair Student Funding has held schools harmless for the salaries of their existing teaching staff. See: Sarita Subramanian, Is It Getting Fairer? Examining Five Years of School Funding Allocations Under Fair Student Funding (New York City Independent Budget Office, April 2013), http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/fsf2013.html; and Ana Champeny, New Funding Formula Seeks to Alter School Budget Disparities (New York City Independent Budget Office, October 2007), http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/FairStudentFunding2.pdf.
- Therefore, shifting teachers from the ATR pool into schools saves the City money because the ATR pool will be less costly but the school’s budget will not be increased.
- Amy Zimmer, “City Hopes to Halve Ranks of Teachers Without Permanent Positions,” DNA Info (August 22, 2017), www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170821/civic-center/absent-teacher-reserve-rubber-room.
- These 170 teachers were more senior than the ATR pool on, having, on average, 21.5 years of service and an average salary of $102,861. City of New York, Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, email to Citizens Budget Commission staff (February 15, 2018).
- The City does not place teachers until October of the school year, allowing principals discretion in hiring until that time. However, if the vacancy remains, an ATR teacher may be placed by DOE. Editorial Board, “Keep it up, chancellor, by draining the Absent Teacher Reserve swamp,” New York Daily News (December 11, 2017), www.nydailynews.com/opinion/chancellor-finding-places-teachers-article-1.3686702; Daniela Brighenti, “NYC’s plan to place teachers from its Absent Teacher Reserve pool could take a bite out of school budgets,” Chalkbeat (August 3, 2017), www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2017/08/03/new-york-citys-plan-to-place-teachers-from-its-absent-teacher-reserve-pool-could-take-a-bite-out-of-school-budgets/; and Christina Veiga, “Fariña: Low-performing ‘Renewal’ schools won’t be assigned educators from the Absent Teacher Reserve,” Chalkbeat (October 12, 2017), www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2017/10/12/farina-low-performing-renewal-schools-wont-be-assigned-educators-from-the-absent-teacher-reserve/.
- Because DOE gradually transfers the cost of the ATR teacher salaries to the schools’ budgets, full savings are not realized immediately. The school covers 50 percent of the salary from the school budget in year 1, 75 percent in year 2, and 100 percent in year 3. Since part of the salary is still being paid centrally, the savings are reduced in the first two years. The savings were $3 million in fiscal year 18, $5 million in fiscal year 2019 and $7 million in fiscal year 2020 and on. See: City of New York, Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2019: Citywide Savings Program (February 1, 2018), p. 17, http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/csp2-18.pdf, and Email to Citizens Budget Commission staff (February 15, 2018).
- Ginger Moored, “Tr3 Trends: Teacher Excessing and Placement” National Council on Teacher Quality Teacher Trendline Blog (March 2013), https://www.nctq.org/blog/Tr3-Trends:-Teacher-Excessing-and-Placement.
- Chicago Teachers Union, Rights at Work: Layoff Rights (accessed June 7, 2018), https://www.ctunet.com/rights-at-work/layoff-rights.
- Teachers with unsatisfactory performance are terminated after 66 days. Washington Teachers’ Union, Collective Bargaining Agreement Between The Washington Teachers Union, Local #6 of the American Federation of Teachers and the District of Columbia Public Schools (October 1, 2016-September 30, 2019), pp. 27-33, http://www.wtulocal6.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/WTU-DCPS-contract.pdf.
- In striving to achieve this goal, the City may face challenges regarding teacher seniority and principal authority and autonomy. While elimination of the pool is the ultimate goal, a return to seniority-based staffing would be an unacceptable step backward.
- Maria Doulis, Is It a Good Deal? How New Yorkers Should Judge the Next Teachers’ Contract (November 11, 2009), https://cbcny.org/sites/default/files/UFT_Report_11112009.pdf.