Francesco Portelos is a NYC teacher who, after having raised questions about budgeting at I.S. 49 Berta A. Dreyfus (a Staten Island school he’s been suspended from), is now taking viewers inside a rubber room he’s been stationed at. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Steven Brill published a lengthy account of NYC’s teacher reassignment centers in The New Yorker a few years ago, but the term refers to offices used by teachers that have been put on administrative leave from the classroom for one reason or another.
Portelos, apparently with plenty of free time on his hands after having been reassigned from his regular teaching duties, has taken to livestreaming his life inside one of the New York Department of Education’s alleged rubber rooms. I apologize if the screen is black, and the feed is off the air. It’s because Mr. Portelos has either gone home for the day or is busy eating lunch.
As any engineering teacher might, Francesco focuses on the absurd numbers surrounding his situation. With a $75,000 salary intact, he says that taxpayers should be enraged that his workday consists of commuting from Staten Island to the teacher reassignment center in Ozone Park, East Queens, where he pretty much just sits at a desk.
One of Portelos’ videos, as shared by the New York Post
Stating he’s been there for 161 days (through the summer), Portelos asks viewers to “Google rubber rooms, you’ll see they were closed in 2010.” Portelos is probably referring to the NY Times article explaining Mayor Bloomberg’s and then-NYC DOE Chancellor Joel Klein’s intention to shut down the reassignment program that had 550 misbehaved teachers relocated to time out, a program that was costing the city $30 million.
I called NYC DOE for a comment, and their communications correspondent sent me the following:
All teachers who have been reassigned are working under supervision in an administrative capacity. Francesco Portelos has been extremely difficult to work with, was transferred twice, and there are multiple investigations pending against him. Please note that there are no “reassignment centers” or “rubber rooms.” We eliminated those years ago. Those who have been reassigned are sent to one of numerous DOE administrative offices throughout the city. We cannot commence disciplinary hearings until these investigations are complete. He is a tenured math teacher and began work in Aug 2007 at IS49 in Staten Island. He was reassigned April 2012.
So, this is either another example of New York tabloid sensationalism and a teacher misconstruing his new administrative post — if we take the DOE’s word for it — or, it’s really just some repackaging of the DOE’s PR on what to call a rubber room. In either case, the livestream is proof that there is at least one man in the DOE who’s scoring a healthy salary for doing pretty much zippo, and the fact that he’s still doing it despite his very public complaining is indicative of the incredible inertia within the DOE itself.
In any case, the situation has Francesco and other other hard-to-deal-with teachers sitting around, scratching their heads and not teaching. Not doing much of anything — beside blogging about wanting to teach again. As the steam bounces off the Queens reassignment center’s rubbery walls, will conversations surrounding old-fashioned education politics now mature? From typical media and community speculation, will expository psychological narratives like this now touch us in a new, 2.0 type of way? Does anyone care if a teacher rants into the Internet after being kicked out of the classroom? These are all questions I hope Jim Lehrer might ask.