UFT sues to prevent school closings


| mchan@queenscourier.com |

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The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators (CSA) are hoping to “turnaround” the city’s decision to close 24 schools in court.

The organizations filed suit today in State Supreme Court, seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction until issues surrounding the Department of Education’s (DOE) Turnaround plan can be resolved through arbitration, UFT officials said.

Under Turnaround, 24 city schools — including seven in Queens — will close at the end of the semester and reopen under a new name in the fall. While non-graduating students at each school will be guaranteed a seat, teachers will have to reapply for their jobs, according to the DOE. If 50 percent of the former teachers reapply, at least that amount will have to be rehired.

“These ‘sham closings’ are an attempt by the DOE to evade its duty to help these struggling schools succeed,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew and CSA President Ernest Logan in a joint statement.

The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) — made up of five representatives chosen by the borough presidents and seven others who are selected by Mayor Michael Bloomberg — voted 8-4 to close the schools on April 26.

The mayor’s appointees and the representative from Staten Island — which had no schools on the list — voted for the Turnaround plan, while the other four voted against the measure, according to published reports.

“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,” the statement said.

According to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, preparations have already been made to open the new schools in September, including training leadership teams and holding meetings with the UFT to begin the process of staffing the new schools. He said the lawsuit “could have damaging consequences for that process, jeopardizing the creation of exciting new schools with new programs, teachers and leadership structures.”

“The UFT and CSA have shown that they would rather leave our students’ futures to the courts than do the difficult work of turning around failing schools and giving students the education they deserve,” Walcott said in a statement. “Our strategy of replacing failing schools has led to major gains in achievement and graduation rates, and we pledge to extend that progress no matter what special interest groups try to obstruct it.”

The seven closing Queens schools are August Martin, Bryant, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown and Richmond Hill High School. They were all on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and were receiving federal Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the UFT on an evaluation system.

By instituting the Turnaround model — a program which does not require teacher evaluations — the city will be eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

According to UFT and CSA officials, unless the DOE agrees that it has improperly identified the 24 schools, the issue will go before an independent arbitrator.