Firing a New York City teacher for incompetence or misconduct is a slow, costly process, writes Steven Brill in The New Yorker. While teachers wait two to five years for a hearing, they report to a “rubber room.” They receive full pay and continue to accrue pension and other benefits.
The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day — which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school — typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off.
Rubber-room denizens complain their “human rights” are being violated.
Seven of the fifteen Rubber Room teachers with whom I spoke compared their plight to that of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay or political dissidents in China or Iran.
All this has been reported before, but the details make the story.
On the union web site, Brill spots a “vindicated” teacher, who the union says was persecuted by a principal who wanted to get rid of senior teachers. In fact, she’d passed out drunk in her classroom. After cutting a deal to return on condition she stay sober, she again passed out drunk and was fired.
He goes to a hearing for a teacher charged with incompetence that he estimates will cost $400,000 and take half again as long as O.J. Simpson’s trial.
(Arbitrator Jay) Siegel, who is serving his second one-year term as an arbitrator and is paid fourteen hundred dollars for each day he works on a hearing, estimates that he has heard “maybe fifteen” cases. “Most of my decisions are compromises, such as fines,” he said. “So it’s hard to tell who won or lost.” Has he ever terminated anyone solely for incompetence? “I don’t think so,” he said. In fact, in the past two years arbitrators have terminated only two teachers for incompetence alone, and only six others in cases where, according to the Department of Education, the main charge was incompetence.
When a school is closed or a job is eliminated, the excessed teacher has to apply at other schools. Most are rehired. Those who aren’t can keep collecting their full salaries while working as substitutes or not at all. This year, principals aren’t allowed to hire new teachers (except for some specialists), but they are refusing to hire excessed teachers, reports the New York Times. Principals fear the unhired and excessed teachers aren’t very good and don’t want to pay their high salaries. And, of course, they know that once they’re hired they’ll be very hard to fire if they don’t work out. Instead, principals are hiring young teachers, who earn much less, as long-term substitutes or pretending that they’re specialists when they’re not.