Paid for Nothing

time money

How would you like to get paid for doing nothing? Sound like a dream job? Well, seven hundred teachers in New York are doing just that — getting a full salary to do whatever they want or nothing at all. Teachers who have been charged with anything from insubordination to sexual misconduct are sent to a “temporary reassignment center” since they can’t get fired. That Temporary Reassignment Center is where they sit in a room and do or don’t do whatever they choose to all day. It sounds like a premise for a bad summer movie. But it’s not. This is often the way of the public school system.

As a former public school teacher, I find that this is the very problem with the public school system in many places. Very little about it operates like the real world. Where else can someone fail and still be promoted to the next level? “Social promotion” keeps students moving on track with their peers even if they haven’t met standards all too often. Yet this takes place in public schools with students every year.

While the pressures are different, the same is done with teachers in the public school system. I recall the year I was hired in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The school I worked in had just discovered an “incident” with one of their math teachers — he was caught kissing one of his students! What punishment was meted out for this kind of professional and ethical violation? He was transferred to another school (a nicer one, incidentally) in the area. Our school, in exchange, received a teacher who was working through drug addiction issues. That teacher’s assignment turned into something of a library assistant. The students knew him as the teacher who sat in the library all day… because he could not be fired.

This program in New York is the very same thing, but even worse. Teachers commit some violation or major misconduct and they are sent to a room because the unions protect their jobs. So the district is left unable to fire these teachers, hiring others to teach their classes while still having to cover the cost of teachers sitting in a glorified, grown-up detention room. Here’s one teacher’s perspective:

“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 2014-15. “I saw several near-fights. ‘This is my seat.’ ‘I’ve been sitting here for six months.’ That sort of thing.”

The teacher sounds like a student! What kind of message does it send students, who invariably find out about all the teachers — and the offenses — sitting around in a grown-up detention center that allows them to do whatever they want to do, or not do at all, and still get a full salary?

Is this an appropriate use of tax payer money? Is it a consequence of strong unions? What do you think is the real problem? And the solution?

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