NY Court Upholds Arbitration Ruling on School Closures

New York City suffered a blow in court this week, putting into question its eligibility for up to $58 million of additional education funding. The New York City School District is attempting to replace the staff of 24 failing schools, but a judge has upheld an arbitration ruling that said they didn’t have the authority to fire nearly 3,600 teachers. Instead, the State Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis sided with the arbitrator and now the city has no choice but to accept the finding or to appeal.

Whatever happens, the ruling ties the district’s hands when it comes staff decisions for the upcoming school year since the earliest that an appeal could be heard is this fall. City education officials signaled that they knew that they were probably going to have to comply with the arbitration decision when they sent letters to the effected teachers notifying them that they’ll be able to return to their jobs this fall.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said it was time to move on. “It is now time to prepare the teachers, principals and school communities for the opening of school, and we hope that the mayor will spend as much effort on helping struggling schools succeed as he does on his own political needs,” he said in a statement.

The $58 million federal grant, which is being administered by the New York State Education Department, had a condition that failing schools in the district must have at least a 50% staff turnover rate if the money was to be disbursed. This isn’t the first attempt by the city to secure a chunk of this money. Previously, Mayor Bloomberg applied to receive the grant money in exchange for an agreement between the city and the union to introduce a new teacher evaluation system. Unfortunately, the fact that the talks broke down before an agreement could be reached forced Bloomberg to go a different way.

“We’re not going to wait around while ineffective teachers remain in those schools,” he said in the January speech.
The Bloomberg administration argued that the schools could be closed and immediately reopened while only rehiring half the current staff. Two unions, the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the move on the grounds that the closures would change little but the names of the targeted schools.

In his decision, arbitrator Scott Buchheit said that since most of the school staff, as well as the offered programs, classes and the student body, would remain the same in the reopened schools, they couldn’t technically be classified as new.