How Taveras Went Off the Deep End with the “Rs in Pool”

The following piece was written by my friend and comrade Shaun Joseph, who first figured out and formulated the best explanation of the “R’s in pool” system, after an email exchange we had about it.  He did the legwork, and it’s this kind of explanation that we need about every aspect of the Providence Public Schools.


In the haze of misinformation emitted by the union-busters in the debate over the Providence teachers, no issue is perhaps more hazy and misinformed than the saga of the so-called “Regulars in Pool” or “Rs in Pool.” Not only is the matter opaque to the ordinary hapless citizen, many within the school system don’t seem to understand it, and even the Providence Teachers Union (PTU) has been oddly quiet about it. Nor has Providence’s newspaper of record, the Providence Journal (“All the news that’s fit to reprint”), been much help: an extraordinarily confusing article by Linda Borg (“Providence teacher dismissals would end costly substitutes,” March 8th) starts off by repeating the Taveras administration’s claims that the “Rs in Pool” are paid “whether or not they work,” then concedes it’s never actually happened, then says it could happen next year if teachers are laid-off instead of dismissed, then quotes the city auditor saying this doesn’t happen because, well, it’s stupid to pay people who aren’t working. Clear?

Untangling the story required some hours of connecting the dots from disparate sources, some amount of inference, and a testy online exchange with Matt Jerzyk, the mayor’s evil vizier. After excavating through the administration’s layers of anti-teacher propaganda, it’s possible to reconstruct the sequence of events that resulted in the creation of the “Rs in Pool” program. Instead of finding a malicious scheme to pay teachers for nothing, we discover that the program is a creation of the very “school reform” chicanery embraced by Taveras Mission Control–and it’s been unexpectedly expensive due to the classically “consultocratic” mismanagement of the Providence Public School District (PPSD) under Superintendent Tom Brady. The PTU leadership, for its part, finds itself hoist with its own “partnership” petard, as its attempt to compromise with the PPSD over seniority rights has become a big stick with which it is beat.

So let’s see what really happened.

Present at the creation

In 2009 the PPSD, under orders from RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist, decided that protecting experienced teachers was bad for our children (ie, expensive for our grown-ups) and moved to introduce “Criterion [sic] Based Hiring” (CBH). (English teachers, or those who paid attention to their English teachers, will note that this should be “CriteriA,” plural, since presumably people are hired based on more than one metric. Though perhaps, as my friend Brian notes, this is a Freudian slip, since the sole “criterion” appears to be: how much will you cost?) The PTU sort of contested this, albeit with one hand tied behind its back, since its parent American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has generally consented to all kinds of anti-teacher attacks under the disastrous presidency of Randi Weingarten.

I couldn’t find a source that spells out the resulting bastard system, but in practice it seems to hew fairly closely to the “hybrid” proposal presented by the PPSD to Gist in April 2009 (p. 13). If a full-time teacher is laid-off, seeks placement through CBH, and is not rehired, she becomes eligible to sub as a “Regular in Pool.” Like other subs “in pool,” this means that the teacher has to be “on call” throughout the school year, even though she is only paid for days when she does work (the mayor’s propaganda notwithstanding). The per diem rate for “Rs in Pool” is pro-rated to the teacher’s previous salary; ie, you take the full-time salary and divide it by the number of days in the academic year.

According to City Auditor Matthew Clarkin’s presentation to the City Council, the average “R in Pool” is at Step 9 ($62,176/year) whereas “Long-Term Substitutes in Pool” max out at Step 4 ($45,617/year). The “Rs” also carry over family health coverage, sick leave, and other fringe benefits–provided they are called up enough–while the “LTSs” enjoy only individual health coverage and no other benefits. Additionally, PPSD is obligated to call up “Rs” before any other category of substitute. They are, therefore, substantially more expensive than other substitutes–but they are also highly experienced teachers, very recently full-timers, who formally intend to return to full-time employment in Providence schools, and in the meantime remain “on call” to the district.

What is Taveras Mission Control saying about its plans for Providence when it ponders a cut of over 25% in base pay for these dedicated professionals, plus the wholesale theft of their accumulated benefits? And what is it saying about itself when it relies on the most dishonest rhetoric to justify these Scott Walker-type policies?

From Harvard to hoopla

In his extraordinary campaign to confuse the public, Angel Taveras issued his so-called “Facts about Financial Liability”. The blockbuster fiction–sorry, “fact”–of this tantrum is that “[Regulars in Pool] get paid whether or not they are working.” (Emphasis and boldface in original.) Makes teachers look pretty bad, which I suppose is the administration’s “criterion” for what it tells the public. But is it true?

It’s interesting that this remarkable claim, which appears in the Mayor’s statement on March 1 and the ProJo article of March 8, is not repeated in Clarkin’s March 14 presentation to the City Council. Matt Jerzyk told me that the Mayor’s statement is “undisputed” by the PTU, which is false (although Jerzyk later claimed that the union admitted it “in meetings”). In short, other than the Mayor and people repeating the Mayor, I cannot find any independent verification of this claim, even in principle.

There are two possible factual bases for Taveras’s whopper: first, the fact that “Rs in Pool” must be called first; second, the fact that “Rs” retain their sick time.

Since “Rs” must be called up before any other category of substitutes, the only way to fill a position with a less-senior sub while there are still “Rs” available is to pay the “Rs.” But why would the district ever do that, when it could just fill the position with an “R”? It’s as if Taveras, seeing a group of people waiting in line, were to complain: “Look at those jerks in the front–they don’t have to stand in line like everyone else!”

As for the second point: because “Rs in Pool” retain their sick time benefits, it’s possible for them to be called up but call in sick, requiring another sub to be called up. I guess you could call this getting paid without working, but then the administration should be arguing for the elimination of all sick time entirely–maybe it would be helpful to have sick teachers interacting with hundreds of kids all day, who knows? In any event, the “Rs” are actually fairly sparing with their sick time: Clarkin reports that, as of March 7, the 45 current “Rs” have discharged 230 sick/personal days. It’s not clear if he means during the current academic year or since the fall of 2009, but even assuming the former, that amounts to just over five days per employee on average, a very modest amount.

We should stress, incidentally, that the “Rs in Pool” typically work every day of the school year. At the start of the 2009-10 academic year, there were 118 “Rs in Pool,” falling to 79 by Fall 2010, and 45 currently. The PPSD estimates that it needs around 200 subs daily. (This turns out to be a serious underestimate; see below.) Therefore every “R” will be called up every day. Isn’t it fair to compensate them with the wages and benefits they were making before they got laid off?

In his “Facts” statement, Taveras offers the following scary calculation:

Take this example: If Providence closes six schools and lays off 200 teachers, each of these teachers could become an “R in pool.” This would create an unprecedented cost to the district: 200 teachers, multiplied by full salary and benefits at approximately $100,000 each, equaling $20 million. In this scenario, closing schools would not save the City money.

An immediate problem with this calculation is compensation estimate of “approximately $100,000 each.” Per Clarkin, the highest compensation amongst current “Rs in Pool” is $87,977/year, which includes all wages, benefits, retirement, and FICA. It’s pretty dull-witted to “approximate” this with $100,000, especially when you intend to multiply the “approximation” by 200! Furthermore, it’s completely dishonest to use the maximum compensation for calculation when the proper measure is clearly the mean. Finally, it’s virtually impossible that every laid-off teacher would become an “R in Pool”: many highly-experienced teachers will retire or find other work. (Hooray?) Thus the whole “example” is manifestly absurd, tying together a series of ludicrous assumptions into a fairy-tale fiscal nightmare.


What’s behind the furor over the “Regulars in Pool”? Beyond the general need to find a scapegoat for Taveras’s program of child sacrifice, I believe this is also a move to draw attention away from the spectacular mismanagement of Providence schools under the leadership of Tom Brady. For the real scandal in substitute teaching is not the “Rs in Pool,” but the PPSD’s breath-taking cost overruns, which are perfectly correlated with their attacks on seniority and No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top punitive “interventions.”

For FY2010, the PPSD budgeted $8.7 million for substitutes; they actually spent about $13 million, an overrun of nearly 50%. By way of contrast, the district spent $9.2 million in FY2006 and $10 million in FY2007, even though the teaching staff was much larger. How was this possible?

An interesting document in this regard is the “Teacher Absence Report for School Year 2009-2010,” delivered to the Providence School Board on March 28. Although the report does not provide historical series data, it makes it clear that PPSD faced serious challenges in the 2009-10 year. Traditionally the district has estimated that it needs about 200 subs in pool to cover teacher absences; but in 2009-10, this level would have only been sufficient in September and October; after that, the mean monthly level of absences ranged from 222 (January) to 278 (June).

Anyone who’s been in a workplace after major layoffs could have predicted this. Morale tanks; uncertainty, cynicism, and stress increases; more work gets loaded onto fewer shoulders. Additionally, as senior teachers were pushed out in favor of the less-experienced, it’s reasonable to infer that teaching was destabilized: turnover for less-experienced teachers is notoriously high, especially when young teachers lack a supportive environment–as opposed to a “transformational” one of permanent crisis–and access to highly-experienced colleagues.

More research and a careful, independent audit of the district would be necessary to fully explain the PPSD’s astounding cost overruns–but unfortunately, the district has little incentive to investigate itself, and since the School Board is appointed by the mayor, it’s politically incapable of playing a proper oversight role. The administration has instead fallen back to the old “blame unions first” line so popular amongst the big business and financial interests that constitute the mayor’s real constituency.


The “Rs in Pool” program will probably be eliminated in the next round of contract negotiations, for better or worse, so the issue may lose its immediate relevance. However, it is an important example of 1) the dishonest, union-busting character of the Taveras administration; 2) the disorganization and lack of realistic planning at the PPSD; 3) the bad compromises into which the PTU and AFT have been maneuvered through their foolish semi-embrace of the “school reform” racket; 4) the lack of respect for teachers, especially the most experienced; and 5) the general sacrifice of public education to a self-contradictory combination of penny-pinching and faddishness.

In the struggle to defend public education, teachers, students, parents, and all thinking members of the community share common interests. It’s going to be a hard fight, with many defeats up ahead, but the recently-formed Coalition to Defend Public Education, and groups like it, are doing the essential work to ensure the tide will turn. Join them!


About riredteacher

I'm a foreign language teacher and socialist in Rhode Island.
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7 Responses to How Taveras Went Off the Deep End with the “Rs in Pool”

  1. Eric says:

    On the topic of subs…my daughter went to the times2 charter. This was one of the first charters in the city and to get the foot in the door they are covered by the PTU contract. When a teacher at times2 calls in sick the principal puts in a request for a sub. At least half the time they don’t get a sub. The kids are then split up and scattered around to various other classrooms in and out of their grade level. This has the clear effect of destroying a days education for the one class and greaty disturbing the education of 5 other classrooms.
    When asked, the principal blamed it on the PTU, and when pushed for some actual info said the district has a max number of subs per day and times2 gets last pick so often ends up high and dry.

  2. Pearl K. Holloway says:

    I am a fired Providence teacher in a closing school. My understanding, which was confirmed by one of the union vps, is that Rs in pool would get paid whether they work or not, but since there are far fewer of them than subs needed daily, they work everyday. They cannot refuse to work and still get paid, so in essence, they never get paid for sitting home twiddling their thumbs. In addition, I would add that the school department set up this situation, not the union or teachers, by hiring people who are no better at their jobs and sometimes much worse than people who have been relegated to Rs in pool status.

  3. David Haller says:

    Thank you. Now we can say with authority that the R’s in pool scare is bogus. I hope someone can do the same to explain the absurd legal shenanigans the mayor is pursuing.

  4. Shaun Joseph says:

    @Eric: Thanks, useful to know!

    @Pearl: I wouldn’t necessarily assume that union officials know what’s going on; since it’s never happened, how would anyone know that “Rs in pool” are paid whether or not they work? It would have to be written down somewhere, but I couldn’t find any legal document spelling out how the program is supposed to work. Jerzyk claimed it was controlled by the “past practice” section of the contract, which doesn’t help his claim, since in practice there have never been more “Rs in pool” than the daily sub requirement. In my view the big “tell” is that the claim doesn’t appear in Clarkin’s report to the City Council–why scream it to the public and press, and then drop it in the report to the Council? I suspect it’s because there are real consequences in telling fibs to the Council.

  5. Tom Hoffman says:

    My wife is an “R in Pool” this year as a result of the closing of Feinstein High School last year. That was a particularly bitter affair as it may end up being the only year displaced teachers were given no preference in hiring whatsoever.

    So anyway, I’m familiar with this issue, and this piece is very accurate.

    While I’m here, I’ll note that I’ve been blogging on my blog about the Achievement First Mayoral Academies proposal, for which there will be public hearings on Thursday and Tuesday evenings. This is a proposal to open five schools enrolling 1800 students from Providence and Cranston, with rather drastic results on both cities’ budgets, and it is being kept very, very quiet.

  6. Deborah Krous says:

    I am an “R in pool.” I have been for two years now. I was placed there when I was unable to make an interview for teacher leader at my last school placement, due to illness that landed me in the hospital, and in and out of labs for tests all summer.

    I asked repeatedly that first year for the “rules” of being an “R” in Pool in writing. I asked because the “rules” were changing day by day – what I had to do; what I could not do; how to call in sick; how to make a personal day, etc…. I never received it from either the school administration nor the union. Indeed, one union district delegate, now retired, told me, “They, (the administration), won’t give it to you because they want to make up the rules as they go along.” Though he was clearly correct, it was the obligation of the union to press for clear ground rules. They did not do so. As a direct result, we R’s in pool have been floundering ever since, still trying to figure out how it works. Both the administration and the union failed us, dedicated teachers with years of experience, on this issue. As a result, we are literally jerked around like twigs on a stormy day, by anyone who perceives they have “power” over us.

    We were also told that we would work “every day.” We were assured by the union that even if we had hall duty, the school had an “obligation” to call us to work, but, that there was more than enough work available for us to be busy with classes every day. In my experience, that has been the fact. I have had classrooms to teach each and every day – even if, as a history teacher, I am in a science, math or even Latin classroom! To their credit, the clerks that call each day do try to place us where we belong, according to our credentials.

    On the other hand, the PSD and PSB have made a bad situation worse. They hire Teach For America scabs – those people with a degree but *no* teaching certification – in areas where there are plenty of available highly qualified teachers. TFA was originally started to place people with degrees into hard to fill vacancies in the inner cities. TFA scabs are now in every classroom, stealing jobs from teachers, like me, (and too many others), who have over 20 years of experience, knowledge, dedication, classroom management and devotion to my students and my profession!

    History and English are *not* “hard to fill” positions by any stretch of the imagination! But, TFA’ers are in our classrooms full time, while we are on the R in pool list! They are also on the 1st pay step. Consequently, TFA’ers are certainly cheaper to pay than are people on the 9th and 10th steps. So, it’s cheaper to place us on the R pool for a few years, get the cheap scabs to replace us and then summarily fire us – the highly qualified – for a manufactured financial “crisis.”

    And, in the meantime, the TFA lobbies congress to the tune of millions of dollars, to have their people in our classroms labeled as “highly qualified.” Highly qualified at what, I don’t know. Since they are not teachers at all, they cannot be labeled “highly qualified teachers!”

    For over 20 years, I’ve dedicated my life to educating children. I have had excellent evaluations throughout my career. I have letters of recommendations from administrators, principals, colleagues, parents and even students. I’ve been nominated for “Teacher of the Year.” I’ve worked with students in behavior modification classrooms and learning disability classrooms, and I’ve twice been part of a team, in two districts, which formed special classrooms to help students with specific skills deficits and behavioral difficulties that inhibited their academic achievement. I’ve also written three curriculum: American Women’s History, Making Sense of the Sixties, and Black American History. The latter is the only class I was able to teach in the schools, due to ever decreasing funding. The former two, I offered as after school as extra credit for those needing help passing their classes and incorporated aspects of them into my regular US History classes as appropriate. I would say these aspects of my career have proven my qualifications and dedication.

    I made the choice to leave a suburban school to go to Providence once the residence rule was lifted. (I had my own child in school and a home; I could not disrupt my entire family to work in the city, which was my personal goal.) I’ve worked in Providence for 12 years. And now I find myself facing a most likely illegal dismissal. And for what? Choosing to go to the city where it is often said that highly qualified, effective, dedicated and motivated teachers “don’t want to teach.”

    Well, this one teacher did want to teach in the city. And the thanks I get for choosing to dedicating my life to these children is to be “displaced,” thus an “R in pool.” And now I face the very real likelihood of having no job in the near future.

    Of course, this administration will put on the dog and pony show. We will go to a “speed dating,” (the superintendent’s words, not mine), match up event soon, with the principals. And for 15 minutes we will sit with a principal and our resume and two lesson plans to try and “sell” ourselves. Then on to the next principal and so on. “If” we match up – the principal and candidate – our names are submitted to the upper administration, who has the final — the *real* say — in who gets hired or not. How degrading can it get? And *this* is supposed to be *better* than seniority? HOW? The upper administration has the final say – over the principal who may want the candidate – and for what reason? This one’s cousin needs a job? That one has a friend who is in TFA and s/he’s cheaper? Yea, that’s a *lot* better! NOT!

    So, that’s what it *really* means to be an “R in pool” in Providence, RI. It means being displaced, not knowing what the new rules of the game are so you can be manipulated at every turn, being humiliated by anyone who thinks they can get away with it, being degraded by a “speed dating” non-interview, and probably getting fired in the end — all without cause. And it does not make one whit of a difference how great of a teacher you are in the end. Fired is fired. Try getting another job teaching with *that* label attached to you.

  7. Pingback: A Match Made in Hell | Rhode Island Red Teacher

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