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Arbitrator Overturns City’s H. S. ‘turnaround’ Proposal

Doomed Qns. Schools Saved—For Now

Seven Queens public high schools which had been scheduled to close for good through the city Department of Education’s (DOE)turnaround” plan have found new life after an independent arbitrator sided with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in their case to stop the plan last Friday, June 29.

Arbitrator Scott E. Buchheit found that the city DOE violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement with the UFT with its plan to close 24 public schools across the city previously classified as “persistently lowest achieving” by the state Education Department and reopen new schools in their place this Sep- tember.

The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) had approved in April instituting the “turnaround” model at the schools, which includes the replacement of at least 50 percent of the faculty. Teachers who were not hired by the replacement schools were to be added to the DOE’s citywide substitute teacher pool at their current fulltime salary.

Among the schools which the city attempted to shut down under the “turnaround” plan include Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Bryant High School in Astoria/Woodside, Richmond Hill High School, August Martin High School in Jamaica, Long Island City High School, John Adams High School in Ozone Park, and Flushing High School.

The UFT filed an injunction against the turnaround plan after it was approved by the PEP. The city and the union agreed to allow an arbitrator to decide the case.

As a result of the arbitrator’s ruling last Friday, the DOE must provide UFT-represented teachers the same jobs they had in the 24 schools which were slated to be closed. The city is appealing the decision.

In the case, the union argued that the school closings were merely in name only, as in many instances, the principal of the closed school was rehired to run the replacement school.

“Based on this decision, the current staff in these schools has the opportunity to remain there for the next school year, though those who have found new positions elsewhere are free to go to those new jobs if they choose,” according to a statement issued by the UFT last Friday afternoon. “This decision is focused on the narrow issue of whether or not the mayor’s ‘new’ schools are really new. The larger issue, however, 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 come up with strategies to fix struggling schools rather than giving up on them.”

In a joint statement issued last Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott blasted the arbitrator’s decision as “an injustice to our children.”

“The ruling puts the career interests of adults ahead of the educational needs of children, and it contradicts the State Department of Education’s decision authorizing our plan to move forward,” they said. “We believe that all New York City public school students deserve the highest quality education, and these 24 schools were failing to provide it. We put in place a plan to close the schools and re-open them in September with new staff. The plan was permitted by state law and is consistent with existing union contracts-but we now risk losing the opportunity to hire effective faculty eager to be a part of the new school community.”

The state Education Department previously indicated that it would pull $60 million in federal “school improvement grants” to the city DOE for the “turnaround” schools if the city lost its case.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, noted that the city still had the opportunity to preserve the funding by choosing another educational reorganization model under federal guidelines.

“I am so happy that these schools may be able to continue, especially for the students who will be seniors in the upcoming school year,” Nolan said in a statement sent to the Times Newsweekly on Monday, July 2. “The New York City Department of Education can still receive the $60 million if they select another of the three less dramatic options to help the schools improve.”

Those options include “restart,” currently in place at Grover Cleveland High School, in which the school works with an educational organization to receive supplemental services; and “transformation,” which involves changes in school leadership.

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