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Saturday, June 30, 2012

UFT Wins At Arbitration: DOE Cannot Close Struggling Schools And Replace Staff

Michael Mulgrew
Dear colleagues,
I have some terrific news to share with you. We have blocked the Department of Education’s attempt to circumvent our contract and members’ rights in the 24 “turnaround” schools. The city’s political maneuver was doing untold harm to our students and school communities.
The DOE has tried to “close” these schools and immediately re-open them under new names. We never believed these were new schools and never believed this “closure” process was a viable way to improve these schools. It was clear to us that the mayor was advancing his political interests at the expense of the students, staff and parents of these schools.
The principals’ union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, was our partner in this fight. After months of difficult litigation, an independent arbitrator ruled today that the DOE violated the UFT and CSA contracts, validating our belief that the “new” schools the DOE claims it was creating were in reality not new schools. The DOE was attempting to remove half the staff in each of these schools. The arbitrator, Scott Buchheit, ruled that all members working in these schools in June have the right to stay or return to their schools in September.
This hard-won victory is a testament to our strength and unity. Parents, students, teachers and supervisors all came together in this battle. We beat back the mayor’s best efforts to rip these schools apart and vilify their teachers. These 24 school communities will now have the opportunity to continue the hard work of helping their students reach their potential.
The arbitrator’s decision is focused on the question of whether or not the city’s actions violated our contracts. The larger issue, though, is that the centerpiece of the DOE’s school improvement strategy — closing struggling schools — does not work.
Parents, students and teachers need the DOE to fix struggling schools, rather than giving up on them. The UFT will continue to support these schools in every way possible.
Thank you again for everything you do for your students — and enjoy your summer.
Michael Mulgrew
Michael Mulgrew

City Retreats On School Closure Plan


After a six-month battle to purge teachers and administrators at 24 low-performing schools, the Bloomberg administration retreated Wednesday and said the schools should plan for the return of the same employees in the fall.
The city still hopes to win an appeal that would allow it to close and immediately reopen the schools with largely new staffs. The schools had been placed on a state list of failing schools that made them eligible to compete for $58 million in federal grants.
[image]Getty Images
Protesters in February expressed opposition to the Bloomberg administration's push to close and re-open group of struggling schools with different teaching staffs.
But the Department of Education lost several legal rounds with teachers and principals unions, which called the closings an end-run around contractual seniority protections. The latest blow came Tuesday when a state judge denied the city's request to allow it to move forward with the plan pending the outcome of the legal case.
"I have a responsibility to open our schools, and open our schools in a way that allows our students to learn," schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Wednesday. "We have to operate under the principle that the staff who were at the school will be coming back."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the plan in January after negotiations broke down over changes to teacher evaluations that would have made it easier to fire low-rated educators. In a forceful move, the mayor said he would bypass the unions and shut schools that had been deemed failures.
More than 3,600 teachers, administrators and principals were given pink slip-like notices in June and told they could reapply for their jobs, apply to other schools or be placed into a group of rotating substitutes. Some, including 18 of 24 principals, were quickly invited back.
The city had been recruiting and hiring for the new schools, but the offers were contingent on whether the city prevailed in arbitration with the unions. At least half of the six principals who weren't invited back were approached about working in central administration jobs, a principals union official said.
Arbitrator Scott Buchheit ruled in favor of the unions on June 29. In his ruling, Mr. Buchheit said the city was using "circular reasoning" to argue that the replacement schools were new. The city said that despite having many of the same principals, programs and alumni associations, the schools should be considered "new" in large part because they would have significantly different staffs.
The city appealed and asked for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed it to proceed. That was denied on Tuesday.
Union officials said the delays began to cut into preparation time. "July is an intensely important month for the planning of the upcoming school year," said David Grandwetter, an attorney for the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators.
Schools officials said the quality of children's education was being lost in the fight over adults' careers. They said they waited to make a decision until the restraining order was denied because it was a crucial point in the fight.
Write to Lisa Fleisher at