QUEENS: The Bloomberg administration seemed to admit defeat this week on their comprehensive school “turnaround” plan that led to the Department of Education's closing of 24 city high schools, including seven in Queens.
After being dealt back-to-back defeats from an arbitrator and a New York State Supreme Court judge, the DOE said the schools would, at least for the time being, open in September with the same employees as in June while the lawsuit against the city filed by unions representing teachers and principals works its way through the courts.
“We have to operate under the principle that the staff who were at the school will be coming back,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Wednesday.
The recent events have left the two dozen schools in limbo, as some schools have already hired new administrators who are planning for the new school year and may not actually have jobs in September, while staff that were laid off are waiting to hear if they get to keep their jobs or if they have to reapply or move on.
The United Federation of Teachers and Council of School Supervisors & Administrators sued the DOE to stop the controversial “turnaround” plan which ordered the closure and re-branding of the two dozen schools including the seven in Queens: Long Island City, William Cullen Bryant, Newtown, Flushing, August Martin, John Adams and Richmond Hill.
Whether or not the schools will continue to keep their names or still have them changed is unclear. The plan also mandated the firing of over 3,600 teachers and administrators at the schools, who were then offered to reapply for their jobs. The decision came after the DOE and UFT failed to agree on a teacher evaluation system to qualify for nearly $60 million in federal subsides. The city warns that money could be lost if the “turnaround” plan is not implemented. New York State Supreme Court Justice Joan Lobis ordered the two sides to go before an arbitrator in May and the arbitrator, Scott Buchheit ruled for the unions on June 29. His decision said the “turnaround” plan violated the DOE’s contract with the unions and rejected the DOE’s arguments that the schools were entirely new, which would have allowed the city to void the contracts.
The city quickly appealed the decision and the case went back before Lobis, who on Tuesday denied the DOE a restraining order that would have allowed the city to continue to implement the plan. DOE lawyers said denying the restraining order would do “irreparable harm” because it would disrupt preparations for the new school year, a process that begins in July. Lobis balked at the claim.
The DOE is still appealing Buchheit’s decision. Oral arguments begin on July 24 and the city is still confident it can ultimately win, though a final decision from the courts may not come until August — only weeks or perhaps days before the school year starts.