The Boston school system has taken steps to reduce the number of teachers who will begin the school year without regular classroom assignments, but more than 100 are expected to face the predicament this fall — costing taxpayers about $8 million in salary and benefits.
The teachers were displaced from their schools because of budget cuts, declining enrollment, or a principal's desire to hire someone else. Some teachers are also without positions because they just returned from medical leaves.
But the district must keep them on the payroll because they have permanent status under their union contract.
Under a three-year-old initiative, principals can bypass sidelined teachers in favor of outside candidates if they are deemed better matches for schools.
The estimated 102 teachers who are expected to be without regular positions when classes begin in September represent nearly a quarter of all teachers who were displaced. That is an improvement from last September, when a third of sidelined teachers failed to secure another position by opening day.
"We want to bring this number down as much as possible without compromising a school's right of who to bring onto their team," said Thomas Maffai, director of special projects for the school system's Office of Human Capital.
Some parents and politicians sounded alarms last year that the initiative, coming amid years of budget cutting, might be too costly to sustain after 163 teachers failed to gain assignments by opening day.
But instead of reverting back to the old hiring process, in which principals typically had to deplete an internal pool of candidates before hiring from the outside, the school system pursued a number of strategies over the past year to get more teachers back into their own classrooms this fall.
Most notably, the school system set cutoff dates to hire outside candidates for certain positions, such as math teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, and computer/technology specialists. That meant principals who hired after the cutoff dates had to select teachers from the internal pool, where the school system believed there were plenty of qualified applicants.
The school system also offered a voluntary severance package to sidelined teachers, and 22 accepted, at a cost of $1.4 million.
Richard Stutman, the teachers union president, said he was pleased more teachers were securing assignments for this fall.
"We have been working with the school system to get people placed more quickly than in years past, but we still have a ways to go," Stutman said.
The teachers without classrooms don't sit idle. The school system uses them mostly to provide tutoring and other academic support to students, while also working with teachers to improve their craft.
Most of the displaced teachers this year have solid evaluations, receiving ratings of proficient or exemplary. But the performance of a small percentage has been deemed unsatisfactory and they could face termination.
City Councilor Tito Jackson, who chairs the council's education committee, questioned the wisdom of not placing all teachers rated proficient or higher into their own classrooms, adding that "the economics of this program are not sustainable."
"Eight million dollars not going directly into classrooms in a year when the mayor's budget increase for the school system is only $18 million is not a responsible way of spending money," said Jackson, who held a hearing on the issue this summer.
But Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a government watchdog funded by businesses and nonprofits, said the benefits of allowing schools to hire teachers who are the best fit far outweighs the financial costs, which he characterized as modest.
"Eight million dollars divided by 125 schools translates to $64,000 per school to give each the ability to select their own teaching team," Tyler said.
The hiring initiative initially raised concerns that dozens of teachers could go years without a regular assignment. But the school system said that only eight teachers this coming fall are expected to be displaced for all three years of the initiative.
Both the school system and the union have been helping the displaced teachers with job hunting tips, such as resume writing and interview training, so they can be more successful in the hiring process.
But about 50 displaced teachers this year did not apply for a single job, according to school officials. In some cases, the teachers are licensed in a specialized area, but there are no openings for those positions.
As the school year progresses, the school system expects many of the sidelined teachers to gain permanent classroom positions as vacancies occur through leaves of absences, resignations, or retirements, which is what occurred in the previous two years, causing the numbers to go down.
Emily Kalejs Qazilbash, assistant superintendent for human capital, said a top priority for the school system is "maximizing the use of the amazing teachers we have and making sure they get hired."