Judge Joan B. Lobis has declined to put on hold a recent decision by an arbitrator that said that the New York City Department of Education must allow up to 4,000 teachers to return to their jobs. Lobis’s refusal to grant the city’s request for a temporary restraining order means that, at least for now, Scott Buckhheit’s decision that the DOE violated the teachers’ contract will stand — at least until a full hearing on the issue takes place on July 24th.
The teachers affected were from 24 struggling schools that were closed by the city. The buildings that housed the shuttered institutions were turned over to new schools which are scheduled to open this year. Teachers who sought positions in the newly-open classrooms were required by the district to reapply for their jobs, which was found to be in violation of the union’s contract.
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.
Michael A. Cardozo, one of the attorneys representing the city, said that although he was disappointed that the judge decided not to put the decision on hold, he was optimistic that once the full details of the case were known, the arbitrator’s decision would be overturned. Maxwell Leighton, who argued that the request for the restraining order should be granted in Judge Lobis’s courtroom, said that Buckhheit’s decision was outside scope of his job and infringed on matters of education policy.
Although Leighton argued that the decision could cause “irreparable harm” to the city’s plans to overhaul consistently underperforming schools, Lobis seemed unconvinced, and asked if the city planned to offer any other kind of assistance to the new schools besides a new staff.
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.
The lawyer for the United Federation of Teachers said that the union will work with the district to find positions for all 4,000 teachers in compliance with the arbitrator’s decision.