By Nico Simino
Coming on the heels of an arbitrators ruling in favor of the city’s teachers union, the Bloomberg Administration has begun the appeals process in trying to overturn that ruling, which would affect hundreds of teachers across the city.
The hearing, which started this past Tuesday, was the first step in the city’s appeal of the ruling handed down two weeks ago. In that ruling, an independent arbitrator found that the city’s plan to fire up to half of the teachers at the 24 schools violated the city’s contract with the teachers union.
The city’s Department of Education (DOE) had planned to fire the teachers and reopen the 24 schools under a different name under a “turnaround” plan that would make the city eligible for over $40 million in federal funds.
But in an even more surprising turn of events, state Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis this week ruled that the city will not suspend the arbitrators ruling from two weeks ago and will continue to rehire all of the teachers while the case is still being heard.
That means that hiring and firing decisions that have been made at the deemed 24 struggling schools will be reversed and the DOE will have to reinstate teachers who lost their jobs.
Lobis scheduled a full hearing on the matter for July 24.
“We are optimistic that the court is going to uphold the arbitrator’s decision, and in the meantime we expect the DOE to follow the court’s order,” said Adam Ross, a lawyer with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). “They no longer have an excuse for not complying with the arbitrator’s award.”
City attorney Maxwell Leighton argued for a temporary restraining order by telling Lobis that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by wading into matters of education policy. He noted that the state’s education commissioner already approved of the city’s plans to improve the schools by replacing many of their staff members. He also claimed that allowing the arbitrator’s award to stand would cause irreparable harm to these improvements.
“It will end the program for this year,” he said. “We would find ourselves in a position where we would not be able to give the schools the help they so desperately need.”
Meanwhile, this process has caused some confusion throughout the 24 schools because the city considered the replacement schools new schools. Therefore they were able to hire 40 percent new teachers and in some cases new administrators.
Now principals don’t know whether the people they’ve offered jobs to will be able to join their staffs, even if their hiring wouldn’t conflict with a dismissed teacher taking their job back.
The 24 schools that were closed at the end of June include John Dewey High School, Sheepshead Bay High School, Automotive High School, George Gershwin Junior High School and John Ericsson Middle School.