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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Civil War Brewing in UFT Ranks

The following observations were sent to NYCATR by Marjorie Stamberg, a UFT delegate and long-time activist.  They are a call to battle with the DOE--and with the UFT.    

Below are some notes based on conversations with teachers who have been living in the surreal world of ATRland. According to the UFT’s latest figures, some 1,500 of our colleagues are caught in this limbo, where their rights are trampled on. 

In the 2005 contract with the NYC Department of Education, the UFT agreed to allow principals to select the staff at “their” schools. It was also agreed to abolish the UFT job transfer list, where a teacher whose school was closed, or who wished to change schools, could transfer to an opening on a seniority basis, by license area. 

Many of us opposed this at the time as a dangerous attack on teachers’ job security. The upshot was the ballooning of the Absent Teacher Reserve consisting of teachers who have been “excessed” through no fault of their own, as the DOE capriciously shuts down and reorganizes schools as part of its program of charterizing, corporatizing and privatizing public education. 

Teachers in the ATR pool have been made into scapegoats by the media which claims that they are “bad teachers” who should be fired and are supposedly costing NYC taxpayers millions of dollars to sit around doing nothing. These claims are bald-faced lies in the service of a union-busting agenda. 

In fact, as a recent audit by NYC Comptroller John Liu’s office shows, 95 percent of all ATRs are working in schools, three-quarters of them are teaching, and almost half of those who have been in the ATR pool for two or more years have been assigned to the same location for at least two consecutive years! (“Audit Report on the Department of Education’s Utilization of the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool,” September 6, 2011). They are only in the ATR limbo because principals don’t want to pay their salaries. 

Our ATR colleagues need the support of all teachers. As every teacher knows, “If You’re Not an ATR Today, You Could Be Tomorrow!” 

Last spring it was urgent to fight against Mayor Bloomberg’s threatened layoffs of thousands of teachers. Due to our fight-back, the mayor was unable to change the “LIFO” (“Last In First Out”) seniority rules which are a basic union protection. Bloomberg had to back down on his layoff threats which would have paralyzed the schools and been disastrous for students. 

Today we must demand that the more than 800 school aides and other staff who have been laid off be returned to work. And we need to come to the aid of our ATR colleagues under attack, out of elementary solidarity and to protect the jobs of all teachers and staff. 

At recent so-called “job fairs,” ATRs turned out in the hundreds, but the principals refused to even bother to turn up to interview or hire. This profound contempt for ATR teachers is part of an organized media campaign instigated by the DOE. 

Starting on September 15, principals have been told to place ATRs in all vacancies and long-term absences in the schools. So one thing we can do right now is to report all vacancies to the union chapter leaders, especially where there are ATRs in the same school. 

According to the citywide agreement, after one year ATRs who have provisional positions should be offered a permanent assignment if the principal and the teacher agree that there is a “good fit.” However, many principals don’t want to hire an experienced teacher, conscious of his or her rights, when they can get two new hires for the same price. There are many ATRs who have been working in the same position year after year, and yet the principal still refuses to give them permanent assignments. 

ATRs who are not given provisional positions are to be treated as subs, and moved from school to school wherever there is a need. Clearly this is an agenda to harass these teachers out of the system! 

Back in 2008, when the DOE recklessly reorganized the GED program in District 79, “excessing” hundreds of teachers, we demanded that every teacher in the ATR pool must be given a permanent position. We must continue to demand that today. After the 2008 fight in D79, including a demonstration of more than 200 UFTers in November of that year, the ATR issue has not gone away, despite the toothless “Side Agreement” with the DOE. 

The UFT must insist that: 

Schools place all ATR teachers before any new hires are placed. 

ATRs should be given permanent assignments with full rights. 

There are also a number of things that the union can and should do, now. 

There should be regular citywide UFT meetings for ATRs to discuss together, and to get the latest information from the UFT leadership. In addition, we call on the UFT to form a special ATR functional chapter so that teachers placed in this terrible situation have representation and advocates to demand that they be placed and their rights be respected. At present there is no body in the UFT that has this task, and ATRs are mostly left to fend for themselves. 

Even within the framework of the present contract, the union can and should provide oversight and encouragement to principals to request the ATR be kept in the school, and not bumped from place to place. This requires advocacy on a case by case basis. It is obvious that this is only good pedagogy to have a teacher familiar with the school administration, the faculty, the students, and the individual curricula. 

In addition, ATR teachers have raised a number of the many unresolved questions about their situation: 

What provisions are being made for ATRs to express their rights as full dues-paying UFT members?  Where are their voting rights in the UFT chapters? This is particularly acute if these teachers are being moved from school to school. 

If ATRS are in numerous schools throughout the school year, how will they be evaluated? It is hard enough to be in a single school without a permanently assigned classroom; but when one is never in a school long enough to develop rapport with the students as well as collaboration with a principal, the other teachers and the school staff, how can a teacher possibly get a satisfactory rating? 

Many teachers do not have direct deposit. What is the procedure for receiving their paychecks in a timely fashion? Who is responsible and where will the bi-weekly checks be sent for pick-up? 

What evidence is there for assuming the statistics will be any better by June 2012? It is clear that principals still have huge economic pressures on them which forces them to go for the lower-paid and lower-seniority teachers. There is also evidence of systematic age discrimination which the UFT has not directly fought. 

Overall, we must make clear:

With the budget cuts, there has been much talk about larger classroom size. There is no need for overcrowded classrooms with almost 2,000 teachers available to fill full-time positions. There is talk of lack of space. Again, except for certain districts in Queens where the DOE has failed to build new schools despite plenty of forewarning, this is an artificial shortage, created by the DOE’s campaign to hand over available classroom space to charter school “co-locations.” 

Even though thousands of students and parents, particularly from the African American, Latino and Asian communities most affected, have loudly (and repeatedly) denounced this attack, Bloomberg and his minions at the DOE keep up their school-wrecking operation. But they can be stopped if we use our power and act together. 

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  1. The kids are the ones suffering from the ATR fiasco. The taxpayers are paying millions of dollars to keep the experienced teachers on payroll as subs at twice the price while while the kids get the newbies fresh out of college as their regular teachers.

  2. I feel for all the ATR's, I really do. I was an ATR briefly two years ago when my school started phase out and I know how awful it was not to know where or what I was going into. And things were better then -- we were assigned to a school for the entire semester, not a month or a week.
    But to be honest, I would welcome being an ATR again. I am stuck in a school with a maniacal principal who targets older teachers and is determined to get our licenses. He has started 3020 proceedings against teachers he has given U ratings to, the first U ratings in their careers. We can't transfer with a U rating; what principal would even consider calling us in for an interview?
    Since the focus is on the ATR crisis (and believe, me, I know it is an awful crisis created by the DoE with the complacency of the UFT) no one is addressing the bullying, targeting, harassment of us older teachers in schools we can't get out of.

  3. I agree, burntoutteacher - there already have been several times where I would welcome a return to ATR-Land - the ridiculous "classroom environment" requirements with the little pieces of minutiae that "must" be posted on the walls, the due dates for bulletin boards at the end of the FIRST WEEK of school, the mandate that ALL classroom libraries be leveled by the end of next week (and the students I have are unlikely to touch any of those books unless it is to hit someone with one) and a new mandate that all ELA classes include a 20-minute "independent reading" period to "build stamina". WTH? These kids won't LOOK at a paragraph even when I read along with them - what are the chances fo getting them to sit quietly and read for 20' straight when they know that independent reading won't "be on the test"? Wouldn't all this time spent on "flash and trash" be better spent on planning lessons for these extremely reluctant learners with poor social skills and work habits?

    I accepted this classroom position mainly because I do not trust the union to keep us safe in the next contract. I have seen members sold down the river too many times to believe that the union would hold the line on firing ATRs. In addition, the havoc that the game of "musical buildings" would wreak on my home life and child care situation made me grab this position as it is relatively close to home and has easy parking.

  4. A number of you mentioned that ATRs can't beat the "two for one" salary comparison between a first year teacher and a senior teacher(13 years?).'s worse than 2:1, it's 3:1....they still get the ATR for free!

    Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for freeeeee?