Friday, June 15, 2018

Chalkbeat Blathers Otherwise, but We Are All ATR

As the city enters contract negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers, reformy Chalkbeat is, predictably, running a hit piece on the Absent Teacher Reserve. I'm particularly fascinated by Chalkbeat's assertion that ATR teachers are collecting "bonuses." I've been a New York City teacher since 1984, and I've never collected a bonus in my life.

A bonus is a one-time payment you get when your company gives you something beyond your pay scale. I watch a show called Billions on Showtime, and the traders get bonuses based on their performance. While the city has tinkered with various schemes that gave bonuses to schools and a few odd positions like "master teacher" or something, I don't recall merit pay to individuals ever being a thing here. If it ever was, it isn't now. And if it ever was, ATR teachers weren't on the receiving end. They certainly aren't now.

What Chalkbeat is whining about is the fact that our brothers and sisters in the ATR are subject to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that they get step raises just as the rest of us do. Like all teachers, they get credit for education above and beyond a BA. And hey, if Chalkbeat and the commission who wrote up this hatchet job wish to correct it, they can alter the pay scale so that all teachers reach maximum at eight years. I don't think anyone in the ATR will object.

The fact is the steps given for time are not bonuses. They are in our contract not to award us for breathing, as readers may gather from this typically uninformed and biased article, but rather to avoid having us hit maximum salary as quickly as we once used to. Because of the steps, the city saves millions and millions of dollars by putting off paying us, and by never paying max to teachers who don't hang around for at least 22 years. It used to be 20 when I started. The higher that number gets, the more money the city saves.

As far as I can tell, this "nonpartisan" commission did not consider any solution so radical as placing these teachers in full time positions. Reformy Chalkbeat considers this common sense solution "controversial," saying principals would hide the positions rather than allow the city to fill them. Evidently, principal insubordination is not controversial in Chalkbeat World. Since principals get away with sexual harassment and grade fraud and keep their salaries, I'm given to wonder what exactly they have to do before things become controversial.

One thing I really love about this story is the headline, which ominously warns, "New York City's Absent Teacher Reserve could get pricier as teachers collect raises, bonuses." Let's ignore the usage of English conventions, and let's ignore the previously addressed nonsense about bonuses. Let's just dig a little into the piece. After the various reports about gloom, doom, and costliness if offers us this:

Still, the commission’s report found that the Absent Teacher Reserve overall will cost less than previous years. 

Well who would've thunk it? Didn't the headline warn us about all those expensive ATR teachers? And yet they could become more costly. Also, they could become less costly. Also, for all Chalkbeat knows, money could start falling from the sky, and if enough ATR teachers pick it up, they could retire and save the city a ton of money.

Let's examine another assertion from Chalkbeat:

The reserve is comprised of teachers who don’t have a permanent position because their schools were closed, or because they face legal or disciplinary problems. 

That's not entirely true, but why should Chalkbeat trouble itself with fundamental understanding or research? Stuff like that takes time, and maybe via shortcuts, Chalkbeat saves money. Judging from this article, saving money is more important than trivialities like truth. Teachers who face legal or disciplinary problems are reassigned. The only ones who end up in the ATR are those who've already faced them. In fact, if they were deemed unfit they'd have been fired, not placed in the ATR. But hey, it's Chalkbeat, and Gates and Walmart don't contribute to them to hear stuff like that.

On this astral plane, the solution to the ATR issue is not firing them. Make no mistake, if that happens principals will be able to throw trumped up charges at any or all of us, dump us into the ATR, and fire us after a certain amount of time. While Chalkbeat says it's been done in places like Chicago and DC, they've proven disastrous for union and working teachers there. Of course I don't expect Chalkbeat or a "nonpartisan" commission to care about that.

But just like we'd be perfectly willing to allow top salary in eight years, thus averting those awful "bonuses" so bemoaned by Chalkbeat and the commission they dug up, I'm confident UFT would be perfectly happy to agree that all ATR teachers to be placed in positions. If they're as bad as the scary rumors propagated by Chalkbeat suggest, let the city prove it. The fact is they've failed to do so for each and every working ATR teacher who's faced charges. Otherwise, we'd be talking about ex-teachers.

As much as I and others have complained about the 2014 contract, we could have secured it earlier if the union had given up the ATR. Doing so would have placed targets on all our backs, not just those of ATR members.

No raise would make that worthwhile. Maybe the city should stop placing problem codes on the records of teachers who it's failed to fire. Maybe the city should stop sending them all over the place to work as subs. Maybe the city should place ATR teachers, if for no other reason, simply to reduce the highest class sizes in the state.

In fact, maybe NYC ought to stop attacking working teachers, stop forming "nonpartisan" groups that don't know the facts, and start a productive and fruitful relationship with those of us who devote our lives to teaching the city's children.

Me and my crazy ideas.
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