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Queens Chronicle

Arbitrator rules for teachers unions

Ruling says city violated contracts with UFT, CSA in closing schools

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Posted: Thursday, July 5, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:03 am, Thu Jul 12, 2012.

Teachers unions scored a big victory against the Department of Education Friday afternoon. An independent arbitrator assigned to mediate a dispute between the UFT and the Council of Supervisors & Administrators and the DOE has ruled that the city’s move to shut down low-performing schools and lay off half of their faculty and administration violated contracts between the city and the unions. The move may mean thousands of staff laid off at the end of the school year may again have jobs in September if they want them, and the city might lose out on almost $60 million in federal funding.

The city closed seven high schools in Queens at the end of the school year, and plans to reopen them with new names and largely new staff in the fall. The schools that were closed include John Adams, Richmond Hill, August Martin, Flushing, Newtown, William Cullen Bryant and Long Island City. Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood had been targeted for closure but was given a reprieve at the 11th hour. The schools joined Jamaica, Beach Channel and Far Rockaway high schools, which have all been closed in recent years or are in the process of closing.

In a statement, the UFT and CSA said the decision vindicated their belief that the mayor’s school turnaround proposal is a failure.

“Based on this decision, the current staff in these schools has the opportunity to remain there for the next school year, though those who have found new positions elsewhere are free to go to those new jobs if they choose,” the statement read. “This decision is focused on the narrow issue of whether or not the mayor’s ‘new’ schools are really new.The larger issue, however, is that the centerpiece of the DOE’s school improvement strategy — closing struggling schools — does not work.Parents, students and teachers need the DOE to come up with strategies to fix struggling schoolsrather than giving up on them.”

The decision now puts in limbo the mayor’s turnaround plan for the seven schools closed this year, though it would not affect any of the schools closed in previous years.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg blasted the decision and vowed to appeal.

“Today’s decision is an injustice to our children that — if allowed to stand — will hurt thousands of students and compromise their futures. The ruling puts the career interests of adults ahead of the educational needs of children, and it contradicts the State Department of Education’s decision authorizing our plan to move forward,” he said. “We believe that all New York City public school students deserve the highest quality education, and these 24 schools were failing to provide it. We put in place a plan to close the schools and reopen them in September with new staff. The plan was permitted by state law and is consistent with existing union contracts — but we now risk losing the opportunity to hire effective faculty eager to be a part of the new school community. We will appeal the decision because we will not give up on the students at these 24 schools.”

The DOE declined to comment directly on the decision but referred to the mayor’s statement.

The ruling was supported by Queens’ representative on the Panel for Education Policy, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who voted against the closures, along with PEP representatives from the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. In a statement, Fedkowskyj said the ruling is a chance to revisit other ideas to fix city schools including some that he said were not given a chance to work. .

“Borough President [Helen] Marshall and I were opposed to the ‘Turnaround model’ when it was introduced in January and at this point the Mayor and Chancellor need to address the situation with a proven educational plan that will fix our schools, not close them,” he said. “This should have been the agenda fromthe start and not some experiment that hasn’t been used by the DOE for more than 10 years, especially at this scale. We had proven plans in place last year (Transformation and Restart) when the school year started, but they were discontinued when this model was introduced. We need those modelsbackbecause they hadproven track records that can sustain improvement and gains over the long term and not some quick fix band aid like the ‘Turnaround’ model.”

A repeal could be a difficult lift for the Bloomberg administration. It filed an appeal Tuesday to the New York State Supreme Court, the state’s lowest civil court.

The decision was praised by some officials including Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), an alumnus of one of the closed schools, William Cullen Bryant, and a staunch opponent of the turnaround plan.

“I was very pleased that the arbitrator ruled in this manner because I think firing half the teachers in all these schools is not in the best interest of the kids who go there,” he said. “[The plan] was not about strengthening the continuity and stability of the schools that need to thrive. I do believe it was an attempt to get around the contracts.”

Van Bramer said he believed many of the teachers fired and forced to reapply for their jobs as a result of the plan were not deserving of it, some included teachers he himself had as a student at Bryant.

“There were teachers who were fired who did incredible work, whose work I saw firsthand,” he said. “I have a problem with that.”

He added that he had not been optimistic that the arbitrator would rule the way he did, and said he hoped the schools will reopen in the fall with the same staff.

“My hope is that Bryant, Long Island City and the other schools will open in September and the teachers who were fired, including some of the teachers who taught me, will be back,” he said.

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