Monday, August 27, 2007

ATR's: What's Next?

..... there’s a clause in the contract especially for you.

If you are an ATR, fill out our info form here:

NOTE: The author of this post has posted an important revision - see comment 9

11. Voluntary Severance For Personnel Excessed More Than One Year

The DOE may offer excessed personnel who have not secured a regular assignment after at least one year of being excessed, a voluntary severance program in an amount to be negotiated by the parties. If the parties are unable to reach agreement on the amount of the severance payment, the dispute will be submitted to arbitration pursuant to the contractual grievance and arbitration procedure. Such a severance program, if offered, will be offered to all personnel who have been in excess for more than one year. In exchange for receipt of such severance, an excessed person shall submit an irrevocable resignation or notice of retirement.

To a lot of us, a "voluntary severance program” means Boss offers Worker cash for his resignation, which he accepts or declines. But that's not what this is saying, and it's so lawyer clever. If Worker doesn’t agree to leave, he’s still given the boot, regardless of that “for show” arbitration stage they’ve shoved in between “You’re outa here” and “Bye-bye.”

This is the end of the line for anyone who's landed up as an ATR for a year - be the person good, boring, talented, workaholic, brilliant, sluggish, helpful, above average or below, maligned, ordinary, wrinkled, bi-focaled, bleached blond or tattooed.

It’s not been determined yet whether this severance program will be offered, but Randi Weingarten has to tell us right now:

Why she thought this was good for us (especially when so many of us landed in ATR positions through no particular fault of our own),
What we got in return that's equal to our careers,
Whether it's going to happen at all, and
What kind of money it involves.

Because some of us have to plan the rest of our lives.

That's not to say we didn't already try to do this already.

By choosing the NYC public school system to work in, we knew the classes would be huge and the pay less than the suburbs, but at least we’d get to really teach and really make a difference in kids’ lives, be free from administrative abuse as long as we did our job, and what was that other thing? Oh, yes, and have tenure.

The above was sent to Ed Notes Online by a newly minted ATR - Absentee Teacher Reserve for the uninitiated, a category of teacher established by recent contracts signed by the UFT which effectively ended seniority rules, allowing principals to hire newer (and cheaper) teachers while senior teachers are forced to be day-to-day subs. The UFT sold the idea that "isn't it wonderful to be an ATR - no paperwork and they can only send you to a few other schools but aren't you lucky, you can stay in the district" while downplaying what increasingly looks like a non-voluntary severance program. And even if the DOE doesn't use that clause, they can "counsel" people out of the system by assigning them the worst classes and giving them U-ratings for incompetence.


  1. Well, let's do something about it!! Let's make some noise and find out what those that are in charge have to say about it! Complaining about it won't get results.. I am one of those teachers that is worried that I might be in the same boat and I am scared!

  2. I'm once again saddened by Randi's betrayal. To further her own aspirations at the expense of her dues paying members makes it unconscionable.

  3. I don't think this interpretation is correct. The buy-out is voluntary.

    "Starting in the 2007-08 school year, the DOE may decide to offer a voluntary severance program. If it offers one, the amount must be negotiated and it must be offered to anyone excessed for a year or more. If an excessee accepts the buyout, he or she must either resign or retire."

    Unless the writer knows something that has not been publicly revealed, he/she should modify and/or clarify what they mean.

  4. Is this stated in the contract or not:
    "If the parties are unable to reach agreement on the amount of the severance payment, the dispute will be submitted to arbitration pursuant to the contractual grievance and arbitration procedure."

    If the arbitrator rules for the DOE what does that mean?

    If a buyout is offered and refused, can they still be forced to go to arbitration?

    One of the UFT's positions early in the summer was that having to pay so many ATR's will break Tweed's budget so they certainly have an incentive to remove the ATR issue by hook or crook.

  5. responding to above:

    You raise a good question. I do not believe the answer is so clear. No doubt the DOE will pursue this line of reasoning....

    I think I am more optimistic than you. I hope you are wrong. (I know you hope that you are wrong, too.)

  6. Again, why is the language open to interpretation? Why isn't it clear cut? Randi can hire PR guys for loads of money but she leaves contract language ambiguous? She's in cahoots! The DOE does not value experienced teachers (more than 5 years?) and Klein can say all he wants to say about it but he does not make it enticing for the principals to hire these veteran teachers.

  7. The amount of the severance package is subject to arbitration, not whether the program is voluntary or not. There is plenty to complain about in the schools; I don't think the voluntary nature of the offer will be an issue.

  8. Thank you so much, anon., for the clarification. I see that I misinterpreted whom the word “parties” referred to in that clause, which are the DOE and the UFT; these will go to arbitration if need be to sort out the amount of the severance package. (By the way, I don’t know what happened with the link to the Memorandum. The cut-and-paste came out with some dots, so here it is again:

    I really disagree, though, with the last part of your comment, where you say you don’t think the voluntary nature of the offer is an issue. I don’t believe for one minute that this voluntary severance program, if offered, would stay voluntary for very long. The givebacks the union negotiated for us this past decade were always incremental. With each contract we taught more and more hours and had fewer choices for our non-teaching periods. Our grievance procedures got whittled away and are now practically meaningless, seniority transfers are gone, and so are the protective excessing procedures stipulated in Art. 17B but demolished by the new Open Market system. ATRs may have a job, but they don’t have tenure the way we used to. Everything was given back in stages, to devastating effect.

    The DOE is not going to tolerate people with big salaries in ATR positions for very long. You just don’t pay teachers $80-, 90-, or 100,000 a year to sub. So, if principals can no longer be forced to put these teachers into permanent positions (which they used to have to do), there are only three ways I can think of to get ATRs to leave the system – give them the worst kinds of jobs, harass them out, or offer them money.

    If the union worked out the Open Market system a year ago with the DOE and even brag now about how good it is for teachers when it doesn’t serve many of us well at all, it is capable of planning with the DOE how to maneuver ATRs out of the profession. Here they are announcing a voluntary severance program in this particular document when it might not even happen (“if offered”). Monetary incentives for early retirement have never been announced in the contract before. You’d hear about them in the hallways when the time came. I believe that RW agrees with the DOE that there is something wrong with an excessed teacher who cannot get another job in a year, and to this end, it serves their joint purpose to introduce the idea of a severance package now, even before it’s fully cooked. Voluntary at first, this thing could easily morph into mandatory severance for some teachers. That’s the corporate way of terminating people, so it’s not unexpected from this chancellor. Her agreement makes her a collaborator. I think this is a very important issue for us to be concerned about.

    I continue to be unclear about “the contractual grievance” procedure it mentions, because I don’t see where there is a grievance in this situation. Perhaps you could help me understand that?

  9. No unity hack or Randi lover can argue with anonymous 4:23. Basically covering all the bases of the demise of the experienced teacher. Unfortunately, Randi sees herself as the bridge between labor and management.

    I think we should start publicly attacking and exposing our own union. Lavish vacations, cushy jobs for friends, terrible contracts.

  10. Leonie Haimson Comments on ATRs & Teaching Fellows surplus from Klein's Principals' Weekly:

    Interesting section below on DOE plans for ATR teachers – those teachers who have been “excessed” out of their previous jobs but not been hired by other schools to fill openings. These teachers re still being funded at full pay by Inter and will now be assigned to schools to be used as “coverage” for absent teachers. The number of these teachers have probably reached 1000 or more – and the costs of this have risen to many millions. Before Klein et al., these teachers had to be hired if there were openings in schools, rather than brand-new teachers.
    Before Klein had derided these experienced teachers as less qualified or somehow substandard – just because their schools may have been phased out. The fact that principals had not hired them elsewhere is not surprising – especially as the new funding system has created a financial incentive not to take them on, since starting this fall, their higher salaries will come out of the school’s budget. The administration may now be realizing the immense blunder and inefficiencies that their new system has created. See below:
    “It is important that ATR teachers be used productively until they are hired for regular positions so that students benefit and so that ATR positions do not create extraordinary costs that could limit funding that would otherwise be available to schools for a variety of purposes. You should supervise ATR teachers at the same level you supervise teachers on your regular staff. Teachers who perform well in their ATR role may be good candidates for vacancies that arise during the school year.”
    They may also have taken on too many Teaching fellows – see below: “
    Teaching Fellows are now available for schools to screen and interview for fall vacancies. Most of these new Fellows are in high-need subject areas, including special education, math, ESL, English, Spanish, bilingual common branches, and bilingual special education….You can search for available Fellows in your borough online using “Fellow Finder” at www.nycteachingfellwww.nycteachingfwww. The website lets you view resumes, schedule interviews or open houses, and notify eligible Fellows of job opportunities. Fellows will also be attending upcoming job fairs on July 25 (. The schools) and August 7 (citywide).
    Yet these dates are long past. This plus the section on ATR’s puts even more at doubt their claim that class sizes cannot be reduced – especially in certain subjects – because of a shortage of qualified applicants. How many qualified teaching fellows and/or ATR teachers are now still w/out jobs? While hundreds of thousands of kids will be sitting in classes of 30 or more this fall?

    You’d probably have to do a FOIL request to get this info out of Tweed.

  11. And I left a response to that soon after, which I'd like to tag on here, if I may, because I think it's important TO ALERT TEACHERS OF THE POTENTIAL DANGER already in the works and not predicted, addressed, or deflected by the leadership of our union.


    Thanks for the alert to the paragraphs in the Principals' Weekly on ATR placement, one of which strikes fear into the heart of any person who finds himself in this position. It says that principals "should supervise ATR teachers at the same level" they supervise teachers on the regular staff.

    It's a crapshoot for day-to-day subs, who have to deal with all the problems and inequities that come with that position. They don't teach their own subject or have their own room, they might be given the most difficult classes or duties, they don't get to have preferences, there's no real way to plan ahead for anything, they don't know the kids (and many will take advantage of the situation), the teacher they're subbing for has not left work, the room has limited supplies or is in disarray -- these things come immediately to mind. I would really like to know what it means when it says ATRs should be supervised "at the same level." Scarier still is the sentence: "Those who perform poorly should be observed, given support, and, if necessary, disciplined consistent with contractual procedures."

    Most regular teachers have never had to be a daily sub for any length of time, and there is probably an art to this that we have never trained for, either at college or in any staff development known to man. The new ATR will have to experiment and learn on the job. It may not even be possible to master this kind of position, since there are just too many variables. Is the chancellor then saying that the ATR should be observed and rated with the same criteria as teachers in positions? Can we call this kind of holding the fort for someone "teaching," or is it most of the time something else? What criteria makes a good sub? Keeping kids in the room satisfies some principals, others expect you to hand out work that's been left by the regular teacher (and we all know from doing coverages that doesn't always happen).

    Nothing has been spelled out in these paragraphs about how ATRs will be helped or criticized, and in this void, there sure is a lot of room for them (especially those with seniority) to be blamed, marginalized, harassed and defamed as long as the DOE prefers that they just disappear.

    It is clear, however, from most paragraphs in this memo on ATRs (which seems to be truncated in message 4837 but can be found elsewhere), and ominously in the sentence "Schools that have ATRs who are discontinued or charged under 3020-a will have the cost of the ATR refunded as they will not have received value for the assignment", the chancellor is much more concerned with the financial aspects of ATRs remaining in the system than with the welfare and good use of highly trained subject teachers who have years into this profession.


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