When Classrooms are Lined in Rubber

More often than not, parents are convinced that the secret to better education is higher pay for teachers.  It’s never dawned on most that if you pay a lousy teacher more, you get a better paid lousy teacher.  But perhaps this AP story, the confluence of some perverted version of due process and your tax dollars at work, will change a mind or two.

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.

Yes, years.  And they get paid for every minute of it.  And benefits.  In NYC, the cost is estimated at $65 million.  That would be $65 million that people believe is being spent on the education of children.

One might think that if it was prudent to remove teachers from the classroom, the very least the NYC Board of Education might do is use them to perform some useful function.  Grading papers perhaps, or reviewing textbooks.  Granted they can’t scrape the lead paint off classroom walls, as they aren’t qualified and it would violate the paint scrapers’ union contract.  But something.  Nope.  Scrabble is huge.  You have to find some way to kill eight hours, day after day, month after month, year after year.

“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.

The complaint from many of the rubber room teachers is that their “crime” is making enemies with someone in power, which certainly has the smell of truth given how things work in schools.  Vindictive and retaliatory co-workers are not exactly unheard of in public service

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.

Assuming the good intentions of both the City and the United Federation of Teachers, the question remains: Why should it take months and years, with teachers wasting away at full salary, to conduct a hearing to determine whether the teacher should be returned to the classroom, fired or otherwise disciplined?

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.

Do the math, guys.  If it costs you $65 million to have the teachers sit there, and you have only 23 arbs working five days a month, what about taking, oh, say $10 million from the cost of teacher dead time, put it into 100 more arbs working full time, and cut the length of wasted time down by, oh, say 80%, with a net savings of $42 million?

And we entrust these people with our children.

H/T Kathleen Casey, our hinterlands correspondent

3 thoughts on “When Classrooms are Lined in Rubber

  1. Math Class Barbie

    “If it costs you $65 million to have the teachers sit there, and you have only 23 arbs working five days a month, what about taking, oh, say $10 million from the cost of teacher dead time, put it into 100 more arbs working full time, and cut the length of wasted time down by, oh, say 80%, with a net savings of $42 million?”

    “Math class is hard!”
    –BARBIE

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