Judge Says City Must Reinstate Teachers at 24 Struggling Schools
A state judge has declined, for now, to suspend a ruling that allows up to 4,000 city teachers to go back to their jobs at 24 struggling schools.
Judge Joan B. Lobis of the New York State Supreme Court refused the city’s request for a temporary restraining order on the ruling by an arbitrator, Scott Buckhheit. he found that the city had violated the union’s contract by requiring the teachers to reapply for their positions at new schools opening this fall in the same buildings.
The judge scheduled a full hearing on the matter for July 24.
“We are optimistic that the court is going to uphold the arbitrator’s decision, and in the meantime we expect the D.O.E. to follow the court’s order,” said Adam Ross, a lawyer with the United Federation of Teachers.
The city’s Corporation Counsel Michael a. Cardozo also tried to strike an optimistic note.
“Our goal is to turn around these failing schools and help our students succeed. We appreciate the judge setting an expedited schedule to hear our challenge to the arbitrator’s decision so that we can meet that goal.
“The judge also made it clear that she wants to consider the case fully. We believe that, after she reviews our papers, she’ll conclude that the arbitrator was wrong,” Mr. Cardozo said.
Maxwell Leighton, a lawyer for the city, had argued for a temporary restraining order by telling Judge Lobis that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by wading into matters of education policy. he noted that the state’s education commissioner already approved of the city’s plans to improve the schools — which the state labeled persistently low achieving — by replacing many of their staff members. he also claimed that allowing the arbitrator’s award to stand would cause irreparable harm to these improvements.
“It will end the program for this year,” he said. “It could end the opportunity for students to get a better education.”
But Judge Lobis was skeptical about whether letting the teachers return would cause “irreparable harm,” one of the standards for overturning an arbitrator’s decision. She asked whether the city would still be able to help the schools with money and other forms of assistance.
Mr. Leighton responded that the schools would risk losing federal school improvement grants if it couldn’t move ahead with its plans. However Dina Kolker, a lawyer representing the United Federation of Teachers, countered that the city had already pledged to move ahead with its instructional and programmatic changes at the schools regardless of whether it won the federal funds. She also said the arbitrator had stuck to contractual matters, not education policy, and that the city should respect his ruling.
“a collective bargaining agreement is an agreement between two parties, and the purpose of arbitration is to resolve a dispute between two parties,” she said.
The arbitrator found the city improperly used a provision known as 18D, which allows it to replace up to half the teachers when closing a school and opening a new one in the same building. Unions representing the teachers and principals had argued that these were “sham closings” because the schools were getting new names but would retain the same students and many of their existing programs.
The city says it received 26,000 applications from teachers who wanted to work in the 24 schools, interviewed 2,000 candidates and offered jobs to 1,100 teachers. It argued that replacing staff members was a central part of its improvement plan, and that any delay would harm the 30,000 students attending the schools. But the union countered that its contract already gives the city the right to remove poorly performing teachers.
After Tuesday’s hearing, a United Federation of Teachers lawyer, Adam Ross, said his union would work with the Department of Education to help find positions in the schools for all 4,000 affected teachers. The 24 schools that were closed at the end of June include well-known institutions such as John Dewey, Sheepshead Bay and Newtown high schools, along with several middle schools.
“they are now going to have to put those people back to the positions that they were supposed to be in,” said Mr. Ross. “they no longer have an excuse for not complying with the arbitrator’s award.”
Teachers from different schools that were hired to work at any of the 24 schools have a right to go back to their previous schools, too, he said.