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Education Reporter

New York City Teachers Earn Salaries in 'Rubber Rooms'
Where do incompetent teachers go when their union contracts make it nearly impossible to fire them? John Stossel's groundbreaking report, Stupid in America, publicized the complicated process some districts must go through to fire unionized teachers. New York City, Stossel reported, maintains nine "reassignment centers" — or "rubber rooms" — for teachers who aren't allowed in the classroom but are still on salary, waiting for their cases to be heard.

The New York Post reports (9-30-07) that the number of teachers waiting in the city's rubber rooms has doubled since 2005. Some 757 teachers now clock in to the nearest rubber room, read magazines or watch DVDs all day, and go home. They make between $42,500 and $93,400 a year, for a total cost to the city of about $40 million a year. The city also pays millions more to rent the rooms themselves, and to pay for substitute teachers to replace those in rubber rooms.

Teachers in rubber rooms try to make the most of their paid unemployment. Some chat or compete with each other at putting golf balls. Crosswords and novels are standbys. One teacher practices guitar; another dances ballet in full tights and leotard.

The rapid increase in the rubber room population may actually be a good sign for the city's schoolchildren, since it means the Department of Education has become more proactive about removing teachers from the classroom when necessary. "I've been pushing to try to charge more cases," said Michael Best, the department's general counsel. "Sometimes I'd rather be more aggressive in terms of things, in getting folks who we should be trying to terminate terminated."

Some of these teachers were bad at their jobs or acted inappropriately in the classroom, but not all. Some are charged only with sins against the bureaucracy, such as unauthorized classroom purchases or giving students gifts.

Former "Teacher of the Year" David Pakter would actually rather teach to earn his $90,000 salary than twiddle his thumbs. "I want to teach, they won't let me teach, but they'll pay me enough to buy a car. Can someone explain this to me?"

The explanation apparently has much to do with the United Federation of Teachers and the demands the union makes on the district. "The reason the rubber room exists is because of worn-out and, quite frankly, irrelevant union contracts that do more to protect people's jobs than they do to protect kids," Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform told the Post.

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