human capital

Comptroller's audit criticizes city's handling of ATR pool

Chart from Comptroller John Liu's audit of the Absent Teacher Reserve.

The Department of Education could potentially be doing more to help teachers whose positions have been eliminated find new jobs.

That’s one conclusion of an audit conducted by Comptroller John Liu of the DOE’s efforts to help members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers whose jobs were lost to budget cuts, enrollment changes, or school closures. The audit concluded that the vast majority of ATRs — 95 percent — are working full-time in teaching jobs, but that the department doesn’t maintain data sufficient to conclude whether its efforts to help the teachers find permanent positions are paying off.

“Without such information, we believe that DOE is significantly hindered in its ability to evaluate the success of its efforts in helping ATR teachers find permanent positions,” the report concludes.

The audit is not meant to dictate policy and is intended only to draw attention to what the report said was an information gap within the DOE on the ATR pool.

But an unwritten conclusion also seems to be that the city is wasting money by hiring new teachers when ATRs are licensed to do the job.

Two charts billboard the number of positions for which ATRs were eligible that instead were filled by new teachers. Last year, the audit documents, 1,796 new teachers were hired for positions that 273 ATRs could have filled, the charts show. The report estimates that the city could have saved $12.4 million if all 273 ATRs had filled the positions for which they were eligible, and the city hired 273 fewer new teachers.

Under the principle of “mutual consent,” adopted in the 2005 teachers contract, teachers gave up the right to claim positions without principals’ approval, and the city gave up the right to place teachers unilaterally into open positions. The change gave principals more control of their staffs but also created the ATR pool.

In a response appended to the audit, the DOE’s deputy chancellor in charge of human capital, David Weiner, says the charts signal that the comptroller would prefer that the city abandon mutual consent in favor of forced placement.

The audit’s “analysis regards teachers not as individual professionals with unique strengths and/or weaknesses as candidates for teaching jobs in unique schools, but rather as fungible, replaceable parts,” Weiner wrote. He echoed language in the 2009 “Widget Effect” report by The New Teacher Project, which has urged the city to save money by terminating teachers in the ATR pool.

A spokesman for Liu said the charts are merely food for thought in a 20-page audit intended to spur the department to gather and crunch more data about the ATR pool.

“There may be cost-effective ways for placing ATR teachers that the DOE may not have considered,” said Matt Sweeney, a Liu spokesman. “One of the audit functions is to provide the agency as much information as possible that it may have overlooked.”

Other interesting data points uncovered in the audit: the DOE sometimes assigns ATRs back to the schools where they originally worked, despite a policy prohibiting that practice; no formal review took place before the DOE decided to eliminate salary subsidies for principals who hired teachers from the ATR pool; and more than 300 teachers in the pool as of March 1 had landed there after settling or being cleared of misconduct charges, likely many after the city rushed to close the “rubber rooms” several months earlier.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said the audit vindicated the union, which has always said that teachers in the ATR pool were pulling their weight within the system.

“[Ex-]Chancellor [Joel] Klein’s constant public pronouncement that this was costing the city $100 million was fraudulent and that’s the nicest way that I can say it,” he said.

Mulgrew said the biggest force keeping teachers in the ATR pool is the fact that DOE charges principals for the real salaries of their teachers, creating a disincentive to hire senior teachers when newer ones are available.

The ATR audit is one of several audits that Liu undertook into the DOE after a series of town-hall meetings where New Yorkers suggested topics for investigation. At least three other DOE audits are expected to be released this month, according to Crain’s New York.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.