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Dozens of 'Absent Reserve' Teachers Now Back in New York City Classrooms

The New York City education department planned to pull hundreds from its "absent teacher reserve" pool to fill vacancies in schools, yet so far just 41 teachers have been placed.

That's according to data released this week from the department, which says it is on track in its effort to shrink the absent teacher reserve pool.

But some advocates claim the placements, while smaller in number than anticipated, are more likely to impact schools with low-income and minority students. 

The ATR is a state of professional limbo for teachers who have lost their jobs for various reasons and are awaiting rehiring. The teachers continue to receive full salary and benefits, and are rotated from school to school on a monthly basis. 

The pool has been an ongoing source of controversy in the city. Just over a third of teachers in the pool are there because their school was closed or phased out, and just under a third are there because of budget reductions or enrollment loss. The remaining third of ATR teachers have faced a legal or disciplinary case, and are eligible to return to the classroom but have not yet been rehired.

The average teacher in the ATR pool earns about $94,000 a year. Teachers in the pool are much more likely than other teachers to have received a rating of ineffective or unsatisfactory (about 12 percent, compared to 1 percent of teachers in New York City overall).

The exact number of teachers in the pool is a bit fuzzy, though, and seems to waver over time. The newest data show that there were about 1,200 teachers in the ATR pool on the first day of school in 2017, down from about 1,500 teachers a year prior. But previous data from the department show there were only 822 teachers in the pool at the end of the 2016-17 school year. (A spokesman for the department said the numbers are "in flux throughout the year—highest at the beginning of the year, and lowest at the end.")

The ATR costs the city an estimated $150 million a year, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to cut it in half by the end of the next school year.

Filling Vacancies

As part of that effort, the city announced this summer it would begin placing teachers from the ATR into teaching positions that hadn't been filled by Oct. 15. The district said it expected to fill 300 or 400 vacancies this way.

Critics accused the department of instituting "forced placement" of teachers, which the chancellor had vowed to avoid. The move would put unfit people back in the classroom, some argued. Some principals even said they would hide vacant jobs in order to avoid getting an ATR placement, as Chalkbeat reported. The district said it was not forced placement because the teachers were filling vacancies, not pushing out other teachers.

So why have only 41 teachers been placed so far? According to the district, for some of the vacancies in the data system, the teachers were returning from leave in the coming months. And some schools had lower enrollment than anticipated and didn't need more teachers. "We are working to match additional ATR teachers to vacancies in the coming months," the department says in a statement.

None of the teachers who were placed in schools came into the pool following a legal or disciplinary case, the district noted. 

But the schools that have received placements tend to disproportionately serve black and low-income students, according to an analysis by The Education Trust-New York, which advocates for equity in education. And those teachers also tend to be in schools that are low-performing academically.

"This raises major equity concerns," says Ian Rosenblum, the group's executive director, in a statement. 

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