700 NYC Teachers Are Paid To Do Nothing


nyc-schoolHundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to 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 they 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.

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.

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.

{NewYorkNow/Elisha Ferber-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Sounds like they need more arbitrators. Teachers are entitled to due process – but part of due process is speedy resolution.

    The arbitrators only work five days a month? There’s your solution right there – make them get on the job and stay there until the backlog is cleared out. Why pay teachers to do nothing just so the arbitrators don’t have to work too hard? Make the arbitrators work!

  2. From an economic perspective, the practice is absurd. There should be a hearing and determination within one month of an alleged infraction.

    But, from a company perspective it is sheer brilliance. The administration is able to remove potentially abusive, or mentally unstable teachers who never should have been in a classroom to begin with. At the same time, they are following the powerful union regulations.

    All these examples indicate thet the teacher was looking at teaching as a job, not a life mission. They were there for the paycheck, instead of to mold the child. Teachers like this shouldn’t be in a classroom.

    If our own mosdos hachinuch had a similar program, there would be fewer kids off the derech. It’s time to face the facts, chinuch is not for everyone. Menahelim have an obligation to weed out those who are unfit for service. Parental surveys should definitely be part of a school repertoire of assessment tools. If a mosdos hachinuch send out surveys to every parent at the end of the school year to be mailed back anonymously to the menahel, the menahel would get an honest assessment from the parents instead of relying on a status quo.

  3. Yashir koach to “Anonymous.” Anybody who has investigated kids going off the derech (e.g. R’ Yaakov Shapiro, Faranak Margolese, some people I know personally) emphasize the role that bad or abusive teachers play in many cases. Too many young men go into chinuch because they have no preparation for any other career, not because they want to teach.

    However, rebbeim should also be protected against arbitrary decisions by the hanhala or some parent who holds a grudge for no good reason. People in chinuch have told me that the pressures from parents can sometimes be overwhelming. Perhaps mosdos should work together to come up with guidelines, and the rebbeim themselves could establish organizations to deal with problems.

    One partial solution is for yeshivas to make sure that kollel men who have decided they must go to work can be prepared for the job market. Another solution might be to actually pay our rebbeim living salaries, instead of just letting them live in virtual poverty while we extol their idealism and the importance of chinuch.