Do you wonder why public schools cost the taxpayers so much money? Well, here's one reason. When a public school teacher is accused of misconduct or incompetence, the disciplinary hearings can drag on for years. During that time, the teachers continue drawing their full salaries and benefits, while they sit idle in what are officially called reassignment centers, but are known informally as "rubber rooms." There they sleep or play cards or otherwise entertain themselves. The city of New York has been paying more than $30 million a year to 700 teachers and administrators in these rubber rooms. Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a much-ballyhooed announcement last April that these people would be assigned to administrative or other non-classroom duties until their cases are resolved. He increased the number of arbitrators who were supposed to wipe out the backlog of cases by the end of 2010.
This did reduce the number of teachers in the rubber rooms, but Bloomberg's announcement was much exaggerated. The long and laborious process required to fire a teacher, combined with tenure laws and union rules, ensure that these people must spend months or even years while the school tries to document performance and gather witnesses and evidence of wrongdoing. New York has managed to fire only three teachers for incompetence in the last two years. Misconduct is a little easier to prove: 45 teachers were let go for offenses such as sexual harassment or criminal behavior.
While these cases are going on, the school must hire substitute teachers, case investigators and arbitrators. Even the most egregious cases don't always result in a firing. The cost to fire just one bad teacher can easily run to $400,000 when you add up all the costs of continued salaries and litigation.
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