I recently read an article by Karen Matthews about 700 teachers in New York City who are being paid to do nothing. That’s right. Nothing. They sit in a room for five days a week, doing nothing but their own interests. One person paints. Another is writing a novel. One is planning summer trips for her family. Why, you ask? Because they’ve all been accused of various infractions that took them out of the classrooms and into, literally, a padded room. And it’s not just New York. Los Angeles and Philadelphia have the same policies in place.
You see, once a teacher has tenure, it is nearly impossible for them to be fired. So when they do something, like, say an obscenity when a student cuts them with scissors, or a teacher shoves a student while breaking up a fight, he or she is banished to the “padded room.” In New York City, they still are paid their $70,000 a year salary. They still get nights, weekends, holidays, and the summer off. But they do nothing to contribute to the education of our kids. And it all has to do with union rules.
In New York City, the union contract states that the teachers in question be allowed to continue in their jobs in some fashion while their cases are being heard. The contract doesn’t allow them to be given other work. And who are these people reviewing the cases? There are twenty-three arbitrators in New York City who only work five days a month. There is no word how much they are paid for their duties. But the teachers, social workers, assistant principals, psychologists, and secretaries banished to these padded rooms are there for one to five years. And they are not always strictly monitored. One teacher reported that there was a bar across the street from the room and many spent hours in the bar until it was time to go home.
Other school districts do things differently. Some suspend the teachers and send them home with or without pay. Others are reassigned secretarial duties in the schools. But honestly, should the taxpayers in New York City be forking out $65 million a year because the mayor wanted tighter control over the schools? Now, students and other teachers are encouraged to report any action that may be considered wrong. One teacher is accused of throwing a student’s test application in a trash can in a fit of anger. She’s in the padded room.
I just hope the man who is writing a book about his experience in the padded room gets the book published. It will be another dig into the running of the public school systems in major cities. These kids are vulnerable to begin with. Just getting to school is a minor miracle. A child staying in school and graduating is becoming rarer in the inner cities of the U.S. That $65 million could go to implementing special programs for underprivileged kids. Or adding a few more arbitrators who work more than five days a month. Come on, Mayor Bloomberg; get the ball rolling. If not for you, then for the citizens and kids of New York City.