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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teachers Sue Over Closings

Teachers, principals sue to halt “sham” school closings


UFT-CSA suit seeks injunction on the issue of shuttering and reopening 24 schools

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and CSA President Ernest A. LoganMiller Photography
UFT President Michael Mulgrew, joined by CSA President Ernest A. Logan (left), speaks at a press conference outside the New York State Supreme Court in lower Manhattan.
The UFT and the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators on May 7 filed suit in New York State Supreme Court to prevent the “sham” closing and restaffing of 24 schools that would be reopened almost immediately in the same buildings and with the same students. The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order and injunction that would be in effect until the issue can be resolved through arbitration.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew and CSA President Ernest Logan said: “These ‘sham closings’ are an attempt by the Department of Education to evade its duty to help these struggling schools succeed. We are asking the court to ensure that no final decisions are made on the staffing of these schools, pending an independent review by an arbitrator on the issue of whether the DOE is trying to get around its labor agreements.”
In January Mayor Bloomberg announced that 33 schools would be closed and reopened, generally with new principals and with half the teachers replaced. He said at the time that the step was necessary in order for the schools to be eligible for earmarked federal funds.
Since that time the Department of Education has changed its story several times. It announced that even though the schools would in fact not be eligible for the earmarked federal funds, the “closing” process would go forward. It then reduced the number of schools to 26, and then 24. It also told principals objecting to the loss of half their current teachers that that the number replaced could be less than fifty percent.
The unions’ filing charges that administration officials “have plainly stated that the ‘closing’ of these schools is nothing more than a technicality.”
It said that current contract provisions for replacement of staff do not apply “in the instance of spurious closings, such as those at issue here,” because the Department of Education “changes only the school’s internal identification number.”
The UFT and CSA last week filed grievances with the DOE that accused the department of improperly identifying the 24 schools as “closing.” Unless the DOE agrees that it has improperly identified these schools, the issue will go before an independent arbitrator.
The unions are asking the court to grant a temporary restraining order that would prevent any final personnel decisions in these schools until the arbitrator has ruled on the unions’ contention that the DOE cannot use current contract provisions to restaff the 24 as “closing” 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.
Write to Lisa Fleisher at

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