700 NYC Teachers Paid To Do Nothing Sunday, Aug 30 2009 

Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that’s what they want to do.
Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its “rubber rooms” — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.
The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues — pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.
“You just basically sit there for eight hours,” said Orlando Ramos, who spent seven months in a rubber room, officially known as a temporary reassignment center, in 2004-05. “I saw several near-fights. ‘This is my seat.’ ‘I’ve been sitting here for six months.’ That sort of thing.”
Ramos was an assistant principal in East Harlem when he was accused of lying at a hearing on whether to suspend a student. Ramos denied the allegation but quit before his case was resolved and took a job in California.
Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules.
“It is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher because of the protections afforded to them in their contract,” spokeswoman Ann Forte said.
City officials said that they make teachers report to a rubber room instead of sending them home because the union contract requires that they be allowed to continue in their jobs in some fashion while their cases are being heard. The contract does not permit them to be given other work.
Art teacher Judith Cohen sits in a 'rubber room' in May 2006. Cohen, who still awaits a disciplinary hearing for allegedly using abusive language, paints watercolors of her colleagues during the day.

Art teacher Judith Cohen sits in a 'rubber room' in May 2006. Cohen, who still awaits a disciplinary hearing for allegedly using abusive language, paints watercolors of her colleagues during the day.

Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the union and the Department of Education reached an agreement last year to try to reduce the amount of time educators spend in reassignment centers, but progress has been slow.
“No one wants teachers who don’t belong in the classroom. However, we cannot neglect the teachers’ rights to due process,” Davis said. The union represents more than 228,000 employees, including nearly 90,000 teachers.
Many teachers say they are being punished because they ran afoul of a vindictive boss or because they blew the whistle when somebody fudged test scores.
“The principal wants you out, you’re gone,” said Michael Thomas, a high school math teacher who has been in a reassignment center for 14 months after accusing an assistant principal of tinkering with test results.
City education officials deny teachers are unfairly targeted but say there has been an effort under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to get incompetents out of the classroom. “There’s been a push to report anything that you see wrong,” Forte said.
Some other school systems likewise pay teachers to do nothing.
The Los Angeles district, the nation’s second-largest school system with 620,000 students, behind New York’s 1.1 million, said it has 178 teachers and other staff members who are being “housed” while they wait for misconduct charges to be resolved.
Similarly, Mimi Shapiro, who is now retired, said she was assigned to sit in what Philadelphia calls a “cluster office.” “They just sit you in a room in a hard chair,” she said, “and you just sit.”
Teacher advocates say New York’s rubber rooms are more extensive than anything that exists elsewhere.
Teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings around the nation typically are sent home, with or without pay, Karen Horwitz, a former Chicago-area teacher who founded the National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse. Some districts find non-classroom work — office duties, for example — for teachers accused of misconduct.
New York City’s reassignment centers have existed since the late 1990s, Forte said. But the number of employees assigned to them has ballooned since Bloomberg won more control over the schools in 2002. Most of those sent to rubber rooms are teachers; others are assistant principals, social workers, psychologists and secretaries.
Once their hearings are over, they are either sent back to the classroom or fired. But because their cases are heard by 23 arbitrators who work only five days a month, stints of two or three years in a rubber room are common, and some teachers have been there for five or six.
The nickname refers to the padded cells of old insane asylums. Some teachers say that is fitting, since some of the inhabitants are unstable and don’t belong in the classroom. They add that being in a rubber room itself is bad for your mental health.
“Most people in that room are depressed,” said Jennifer Saunders, a high school teacher who was in a reassignment center from 2005 to 2008. Saunders said she was charged with petty infractions in an effort to get rid of her: “I was charged with having a student sit in my class with a hat on, singing.”
The rubber rooms are monitored, some more strictly than others, teachers said.
“There was a bar across the street,” Saunders said. “Teachers would sneak out and hang out there for hours.”
Judith Cohen, an art teacher who has been in a rubber room near Madison Square Garden for three years, said she passes the time by painting watercolors of her fellow detainees.
“The day just seemed to crawl by until I started painting,” Cohen said, adding that others read, play dominoes or sleep. Cohen said she was charged with using abusive language when a girl cut her with scissors.
Some sell real estate, earn graduate degrees or teach each other yoga and tai chi.
David Suker, who has been in a Brooklyn reassignment center for three months, said he has used the time to plan summer trips to Alaska, Cape Cod and Costa Rica. Suker said he was falsely accused of throwing a girl’s test sign-up form in the garbage during an argument.
“It’s sort of peaceful knowing that you’re going to work to do nothing,” he said.
Philip Nobile is a journalist who has written for New York Magazine and the Village Voice and is known for his scathing criticism of public figures. A teacher at Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill School of American Studies, Nobile was assigned to a rubber room in 2007, “supposedly for pushing a boy while I was breaking up a fight.” He contends the school system is retaliating against him for exposing wrongdoing.
He is spending his time working on his case and writing magazine articles and a novel.
“This is what happens to political prisoners throughout history,” he said, alluding to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “They put us in prison and we write our ‘Letter From the Birmingham Jail.'”

Teacher salaries raising eyebrows Sunday, Aug 16 2009 

Some ask if educators are sharing the pain

Saturday,  August 15, 2009 8:42 PM By Jim Siegel and Catherine Candisky from the Columbus Ohio Dispatch

As scores of Ohioans are seeing their paychecks frozen, cut or taken away, pressure is mounting on teachers unions and school administrators who continue enjoying healthy raises to share in the sacrifice.

 While 60 percent of schools are getting a cut in state aid over the next two years, and the rest will see annual increases of less than 1 percent, pay raises for teachers top 5 percent in some districts once all the automatic pay bumps are included.

In light of state workers and many other government-paid employees already taking concessions, such raises are getting the attention of weary taxpayers in many school districts, particularly those asking voters to approve higher taxes.

State Superintendent Deborah Delisle told The Dispatch that it’s time for “a reality check in every single community to see what we are able to sustain.”

“Communities will always look to see if sacrifice across the community is equal,” she said. “If people are feeling the pinch and they don’t see community employees feeling the pinch, there is a disconnect.”

A key fact that many taxpayers don’t realize: With all their pay increases for experience or academic training, most Ohio teachers would get a raise even if they took a contractual salary freeze.

In Worthington, where the district is headed to the ballot again in November, John Herrington and his organization, Educate Worthington, are helping lead a growing debate about not only whether teachers should take pay concessions in the short term, but if the district’s salary structure is sustainable in the future.

It is not, Herrington argues.  “People deserve raises, but they should be more in line with what the community is making,” he said, noting that potential cuts proposed by the school board if the levy fails do not include salaries.

“You see very little dealing with the adults in the situation. It hits the kids.”

Some school employees already have taken action. South-Western administrators and teachers are taking no base pay increases, nor are those in Groveport Madison, Grandview Heights and Canal Winchester, which has the lowest pay scale in Franklin County.

Canal Winchester Superintendent Kim Miller-Smith said wages were frozen last spring just weeks before the district asked voters for the fifth time to approve a tax hike.

“How could any of us take raises when we were going to have to lay off 27 people?” she said.

“It was a show of cooperation among everybody that we need to take care of funding our schools first and then we can come back and deal with contracts.”

The levy passed.

Like the state superintendent, Gov. Ted Strickland does not want to interfere with local contract negotiations but agrees that cutbacks must be shared.

“I think it’s appropriate for all of us to participate in sacrifices that will get us through these times,” he said.

Teachers unions say times are tough for everyone, including educators.

“Teachers are not getting pay raises, and some districts delayed negotiations pending the outcome of the state budget,” said William Leibensperger, vice president of the Ohio Education Association.

He cautioned against short-changing teachers.

“There is an undeniable correlation between teacher salaries and resources given to teachers and student achievement,” he said.

Westerville school leaders have been hearing calls for concessions as they prepare to ask for an additional 7.97 mills in November. Administrators already have agreed to a pay freeze, and contract negotiations with teachers are ongoing.

“(Administrators) stepped up to the plate, and we hope the teachers will follow,” said Westerville Assistant Superintendent Christopher Wanner. “With what is going on with the economy and what people have been through, I think it’s very difficult to look at any sizable increase.”

A Dispatch analysis of contracts last school year found that raises for teachers in nearly every Franklin County district would average 5.9 percent to 8.8 percent per year over their first 10 years on the job, thanks to automatic step increases and base salary hikes.

New teachers in Bexley, Dublin, Gahanna-Jefferson, Grandview Heights, Hamilton, Hilliard and Worthington could double their salaries in about 10 years.

Worthington teachers get automatic step increases for experience in 20 of their first 29 years of employment, at 1 to 5 percent each, plus another six pay bumps as they work toward a master’s degree and beyond (Ohio requires teachers to have a master’s degree by the end of their 12th year). So the 2.85 percent increase in the contract actually averages about 5 percent per teacher.

Meanwhile, the average wage and salary increase for nongovernment employees in the 12-month period ending in June was 1.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Raises in 2010 are not expected to top 2 percent, according to federal estimates.

Thomas Ash of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators said step increases help districts retain their best and most experienced teachers. But he sees no logic in the fact that most contracts provide pay steps for the first 11 years or more.

“Is somebody going to tell me that a teacher is better after 11 years than a teacher was after five? I’ve never seen any research to prove that,” he said.

In Worthington and many other districts, it is doubtful that districts can sustain significant pay raises.

State funding for daily school operations was cut by 0.24 percent for both this year and next. There is little hope that things will improve in the state budget two years from now without another federal stimulus package or significant tax increase.

“To commit yourself to a new contract with increases, basically you are committing yourself to a local tax increase, because money is not coming from the state to cover that,” said Sen. Gary Cates, R-West Chester, who heads the Senate Education Committee. “School boards run a great risk of alienating the public if they continue to give out salary and benefit increases in these times.”

David Bressman, president of the Worthington Board of Education, said if teachers agreed to give back their raises, as administrators already have done, it would help pass an incremental levy in November. Voters in May crushed a larger 7.4-mill issue by 18 percentage points.

“A lot of folks who are on the fence have told me either privately or publicly, that if they see some action by the teachers and the administrators they would be strongly inclined to support the November levy,” he said.

New Teacher Salary Blog! Monday, Aug 3 2009 

Welcome to School Distric Support’s new blog.  The blog will be written and maintained by Chris Janota and Dale Janota. 

We plan to fill these pages with teacher salary negotiation tips, interesting insights and suggestions.  Our interests run the gamut from ….and we plan to talk about it all here.  We hope you’ll revisit the blog from time to time and share your comments with us!  Wish me luck on my first entry…I am so excited…I don’t know where to start! -Chris