The Bloomberg administration’s high school “turnaround” plan suffered a stinging and perhaps fatal defeat on Tuesday evening as a New York State Supreme Court judge upheld an arbitrator’s decision to reverse the plan to close 24 city high schools, including seven in Queens, fire much of the staff and reopen them in the fall under new names.
The judge ruled that the Department of Education broke its contracts with the UFT and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators in closing the schools and reopening them under new names. In her ruling, Judge Joan Lobis, who originally sent the two sides to the arbitrator, Scott Buccheit, in May, upheld his ruling which stated the renamed high schools opening in September were not new schools, which would have allowed the city to void its contracts with the unions.
In her decision, Lobis said Buchheit’s decision is legally binding under collective bargaining.”I believe the arbitrator was within his authority to determine this grievance,” she said.” The issue of staffing is intertwined with the questions of seniority, excessing and discipline of teachers and supervisors, all of which are specifically covered by the collective bargaining agreements.”
The seven high schools that would have been closed under the plan were August Martin, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown, Richmond Hill and William Cullen Bryant.
In a statement, Michael Cardozo, corporate counsel for the NYC Law Department, the legal representative for the DOE in the case, said the city will honor the judge’s decision but vowed to appeal it to the Appellate Division, the second highest state-level court. Since the Appellate Division does not sit until after the school year starts, the city will not proceed with the “turnaround” plan before September.
“The mayor and chancellor will not allow failing schools to deprive our students of the high-quality education they deserve. Although we will of course comply with the judge’s ruling, we strongly disagree with it — andwe will beappealing,” the statement read.
The decision means the layoffs made by the DOE at the end of the school year are voided, though whether or not the schools will be renamed is still in question. A DOE spokesman would not go into further detail about the ramifications of the judge’s ruling.
The city may also lose out on $60 million in federal money since the DOE and the unions failed to agree on a teacher evaluation system, which prompted Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to proceed with the “turnaround” plan. The DOE did not immediately respond for comment, but UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised the decision and asked the DOE to now focus on the upcoming school year.
“We appreciate the judge’s decision to uphold the arbitrator’s ruling. It is now time to prepare the teachers, principals and school communities for the opening of school and we hope that the mayor will spend as much effort on helping struggling schools succeed as he does on his own political needs,” he said in a statement Tuesday evening.
The UFT is also calling for the city to drop its appeal of Lobis’ decision.