Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Teachers Sue Over Closings
UFT-CSA suit seeks injunction on the issue of shuttering and reopening 24 schools
For the third time in as many years, the city teachers union is suing to try to stop school closings, saying on Monday that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had attempted an "end run" around the union to get rid of bad teachers.
The United Federation of Teachers said the mayor's move to close two-dozen schools this year was a "sham," because in some schools little would change besides internal school-identification numbers.
Mr. Bloomberg said that by suing, the union showed its agenda "is not to help children."
The low-performing schools were caught up last year in a fight over new teacher and principal evaluations, which were required to land a federal grant for improvement programs for the schools. When the city couldn't reach a year-end deal on the evaluations, the mayor switched tactics, saying in January he would close the schools instead of working to improve them.
The announcement was hardly a shock. Mr. Bloomberg has closed more than 100 schools as part of his strategy to overhaul the school system—and opened many more, bringing the total number of schools in the city to more than 1,750.
But the way the city would close schools was unusual: Instead of gradually phasing out the grades, the city would close and immediately re-open the schools, changing their name, keeping the same students in the same buildings and, in many cases, keeping the same principals and most of the staff.
"He has now crossed the line; it's all about politics, it's no longer about education," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said on Monday. "It's all about his political legacy, which is in shambles, and he's very upset about it."
The Department of Education said the move allows it to make dramatic changes at schools with varied needs. Some need new leadership, city officials said; others need new teachers.
In the lawsuit, the UFT said Mr. Bloomberg told Mr. Mulgrew he was using his approach to "get rid of bad teachers." The union also cites an email from top school officials to principals saying closing the schools was a "technical" move.
If the city succeeds in closing the schools, the new schools will form committees to hire back teachers. The panels will include parents and union members. Teachers who aren't re-hired will go into a pool of citywide substitute teachers.
In previous years, the lawsuits have challenged the city's public-notification procedures. The union won the first year but couldn't block school closings last summer.
For the first time, the principals union joined in the lawsuit.
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