The city is having such a hard time removing bad teachers that it can’t even get a couple of convicted criminals — who are sitting in jail after being found guilty of committing crimes against students — off the payroll.
The bureaucratic absurdity is happening despite tough talk from Mayor de Blasio, whose promised reforms on the issue are moving in the wrong direction.
According to a state Education Department tally, the city tried to fire fewer bad educators in 2016 than it did the previous year.
The data reveal the city launched termination hearings against just 381 teachers and school administrators in the fiscal year that ended March 31, compared with 392 educators in 2015.
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In the meantime, educators convicted of crimes and jailed continue to draw their paychecks as though they are still working in schools. They are not docked vacation or sick days or holidays.
Teacher reform advocates said the situation doesn’t get much worse than the process involving two teachers doing jail time for abusing their own students.
Public School 194 math instructor Osman Couey was convicted April 13 in Manhattan Supreme Court for a December 2015 incident in which he shoved a student with a disability. Couey is serving 30 days for his crime on Rikers Island — but he’s still getting his $ 105,142 salary because the city hasn’t fired him.
Columbia Secondary School teacher Dean Bethea was sentenced on April 20 to four months in jail for trying to kiss a 16-year-old student after giving her alcohol in December 2015. Like Couey, Bethea continues to draw his salary, all $ 81,346 of it, because he hasn’t been fired.
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An Education Department spokesman said the city is working to terminate Couey’s employment and Bethea will be fired within 30 days.
Meanwhile, other city educators — teachers and principals — accused of unacceptable classroom behaviors have also kept their jobs, despite the city’s efforts to fire them.
New York City Parents Union President Mona Davids said the situation puts school kids at risk.
“Clearly, the system is broken since you can be convicted of abusing students and still get a paycheck in prison,” said Davids, who is named as a co-plaintiff in a 2014 suit that aims to overhaul teacher tenure. “This process needs to be reformed.”
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The drop in disciplinary proceedings brought by the city against bad teachers and school administrators came roughly two years after de Blasio signed off on twin contracts worth nearly $ 10 billion with the teachers and principals unions.
The mayor had vowed on the campaign trail to streamline the process for canning bad educators and said his deals with the unions would help the city fire more bad educators.
In his speech unveiling the teachers union contract in May 2014, de Blasio promised “reforms” in “moving out those who belong in a different profession.”
“Mayor de Blasio said he’d make sure students come first, restore respect to quality teachers and use all the tools at his disposal to remove teachers who don’t belong in the classroom — that’s exactly what he’s doing,” spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said Wednesday.
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But critics say the state’s stats — and the stories of Couey and Bethea — show the mayor’s efforts haven’t panned out.
“Mayor de Blasio’s contract deals prioritized the desires of his political allies,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of education reform group StudentsFirstNY. “Despite his promise to get rid of the bad apples, too many ineffective educators remain in schools.”
In certain rare cases, educators can be fired on the spot. Teachers found guilty in a criminal court of sex crimes with children are immediately terminated, for example.
But when the city seeks to fire a tenured teacher or other educator, it usually must hold a hearing. Hearing officers consider criminal convictions in their decisions on firing — or rendering another penalty against — educators brought up on termination charges.
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De Blasio’s 2014 deals with the teacher and principal unions sought to streamline the process, which often lasts longer than a year and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
During the 2014-15 fiscal year, the first year after the contracts were signed, the city sought to fire 366 educators, state Education Department stats show.
A year later, that number rose to 392, before dropping to 381 for the most recent fiscal year.
In the year that ended March 31, independent hearing officers decided 93 cases against teachers and school administrators that the city sought to fire.
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Just 23 of those cases resulted in a firing. Other educators were handed lesser penalties, including suspensions and fines in 61 cases. In nine cases, the educators were found not guilty and received no punishment.
City Education officials couldn’t say how many firing proceedings are now underway. But department spokeswoman Toya Holness said the city has taken significant steps to identify and remove more teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom.
“Every classroom needs a great teacher and we use all available tools to recruit and retain strong educators, and remove those who shouldn’t be teaching,” she said.
Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said the union is working with the city to recruit and retain teachers.
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“The bigger issue facing New York City schools is not the teachers who leave because of the disciplinary process, but the thousands of teachers in good standing who walk out the door every year because they aren’t supported,” he said.
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