Barbara Martinez of The Wall Street Journal reported last week that New York City schools have begun handing out pink slips to teachers:

Principals—who are facing an average 4% budget cut at their schools—have started eliminating teaching positions ahead of Friday, when their spending plans are due to the city Department of Education [DOE].

Presumably this action is meant to cut costs. But there’s a twist:

Those teachers don’t stop getting paid; the cost of their salary and benefits merely shifts from their schools’ budgets to the department’s central office budget. The DOE spent $100 million on these teachers this school year.

At the same salary they were making when teaching full time, they now join a group known as the “Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool” and perform certain tasks at other schools across the city (such as subbing or clerical work):

Twenty-six of the ATRs who lost their jobs in 2006 earn more than $100,000 a year in salary, not counting about $30,000 in benefits. Seventy have been working in the school system for 26 or more years. Some could retire, but haven’t.

These teachers remain on the payroll of the DOE and are not required to look for permanent employment elsewhere:

While many teachers who lose their jobs in the system quickly find new ones, some end up in the ATR pool for years. More than 900 ATRs were invited to a job fair in late June. … [Only] 90 showed up.

Referring to one ATR teacher who showed up at a job interview in jeans and a t-shirt and said “she wasn’t really looking for a job,” Janet Heller, administrator at Patria Mirabel Middle School 324 in Washington Heights, reported:

I’m appalled at the quality of the personnel that I’ve come across and their responses and lack of interest.

However, hiring restrictions require that the school systems employ only candidates within the school system, including ATR teachers.

This is yet another example of the inherent inefficiencies of the union–political complex that has come to dominate public schools across the country. Parental choice in education is the best way to hold teachers accountable and lead to teacher excellence in the classroom.

Michael Wille is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: