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ATRs to be offered ‘generous’ buyouts

Union, DOE will negotiate details in coming weeks

After refusing the union’s suggestions for two years, the city had a surprise change of heart on May 17, announcing that it will offer “generous” buyouts to teachers who have spent a year or more in the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Negotiations over the terms and amount of the buyout will begin in the next several weeks, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.

The UFT has been calling on the city and the Department of Education to negotiate voluntary buyouts for ATRs since 2010. Mulgrew said that he looked forward to getting a deal in place, but so far no details have been finalized.

There are about 830 teachers in the ATR pool now, down from a high-water mark of 1,600 earlier this school year. According to the DOE, the average salary of the remaining ATRs is $84,420, indicating many are senior teachers.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott made the buyout offer in a speech before one of the city’s leading business groups, the Association for a Better New York. “If you’re a teacher who can’t find a permanent job in our schools after a year, we will offer you a generous incentive to resign and pursue another career,” Walcott said, addressing teachers directly though none were in attendance. “This buyout proposal will be more attractive than any we’ve seen across the nation — for teachers, and for the taxpayers of New York City.”

Last year, the UFT and the DOE negotiated a deal to utilize ATRs to lower the per-diem payroll.

Walcott also used the occasion to announce two further policy changes to begin in September. The DOE will move to dismiss all teachers who are U-rated for two years in a row, he said, and it will not allow elementary school students to be assigned to a U-rated teacher for more than one year.

The DOE has never needed union approval to bring up on disciplinary charges any tenured teacher at any time or tell principals how to assign students to teachers, Mulgrew noted.

According to the city, only 104 teachers currently in classrooms have been U-rated for two consecutive years, and only 217 elementary school teachers were U-rated last year, “meaning the likelihood that a student would be assigned to two of their classrooms in consecutive years is close to zero,” the New York Post observed.

Mulgrew said the chancellor has his priorities wrong. “While no one wants to protect teachers who are not doing the job, the more important issue is the thousands of good teachers who leave the system every year because of substandard pay, bad teaching conditions and lack of support from their superiors,” he said.

Walcott told the business leaders that these moves were necessary because the UFT is stalling on a new evaluation system. However, it was the DOE that walked out of negotiations on a new evaluation system in December, and it was the UFT that got Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help broker a compromise on the key sticking point. Still, the DOE has refused to finalize a new system.

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