NYC Teachers Paid To Do Nothing

The AP has a story about the New York City school system’s “rubber rooms” — the places where hundreds of teachers facing disciplinary hearings wait, doing no work but drawing full salaries. Sometimes this can go on for years.

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. […]

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.

So the teachers blame the schools, the schools blame the teachers. Buried deep in the article, however, the real culprit is briefly mentioned:

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.

So why don’t they just hire a bunch of full-time arbitrators? Given the millions of dollars of potential savings, it seems silly not to hire the needed personnel.

There’s an compelling episode of “This American Life” focusing on life inside teacher purgatory.


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5 Responses to NYC Teachers Paid To Do Nothing

  1. 1
    Sage says:

    It’s not dissimilar in Canada. We had a teacher accused of sexual inappropriateness at my school. He was paid to sit at home for five years until his trial was over, and then he was fired. It started a running joke that we could all retire five years early by coming-on to a kid.

    The interesting thing is, he was alleged to have asked for oral sex from a student. Previously the student was angry at him for different reasons – something everyone knew about – then the allegations surfaced. The court found him not-guilty because the girl’s story kept changing, and her two friends’ testimony didn’t match hers. But the school board wasn’t going to take a chance on the guy, and he was banned from teaching in the province ever again. I guess it takes five years to sort this stuff out. I think it’s a better system than having potential innocent people lose all pay. But it would be nice if the courts could work faster.

  2. 2
    Robert says:

    I’ll bet you $100 that the city has tried to hire more arbitrators, or to extend the working days of the existing arbitrators, and has been blocked by the teacher’s union. I base this not on my distaste for the teacher’s union (though that exists) but because the union is the only entity with power that stands to profit from the status quo.

    But to collect, you have to do the research :)

  3. 3
    Renee says:

    Your suggestion makes far too much sense for them to consider adapting. Anytime there is an opportunity to waste money, you can be certain that the government will do it.

  4. 4
    Elusis says:

    That ep of TAL made me literally sick to my stomach with depression and anxiety, and still haunts me terribly. As the child of two public school teachers (both of whom clashed with administration from time to time, and were penalized for it), and the sister of another, and as someone who cannot stand to see how under-funded the schools are, it sends chills up and down my spine.

  5. 5
    PG says:


    I may take that bet. Arbitrators are expensive to have on retainer. They certainly have higher earnings than public school teachers do. It’s quite plausible that the school district is being penny-wise and pound-foolish without the union’s directly blocking the hiring of arbitrators. The NY union is actually quite fond of arbitration; I think they got their last contract through it.

    Also, this has been a problem in New York for at least 15 years. The teachers can choose whether to have their case heard before a three-member panel or a single arbitrator. It seems likely that the three-member panels take longer to convene and are more expensive to do so. So contrary to the DKos claim, the teachers could speed up the process while still obtaining a hearing. It’s within their duly-negotiated union contract rights not to do so, but it is within their power if they desire. According to the 1994 article, 3 out of 4 teachers will opt for the single arbitrator, while 1 out of 4 want the more difficult and expensive process. Anyone want to bet on whether the 3/4 are the ones who want to be vindicated and get back to the classroom ASAP, while the 1/4 don’t?