School closings put on hold

School closings put on hold
According to a survey taken by the United Federation of Teachers, Long Island City High School is the third most-overcrowded high school in the city, with 207 classrooms over capacity.
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

An arbitrator ruled last week that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial plan to close seven Queens high schools was in violation of the teachers union’s collective bargaining agreement, though the city has vowed to challenge the ruling in the courts.

The city Panel for Educational Policy voted in April to replace more than half of the teachers at 24 schools across the city and open them under new names in September, including seven in Queens: Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Flushing HS, August Martin HS in Jamaica, Richmond Hill HS, John Adams HS in Ozone Park, William Cullen Bryant HS in Astoria and Long Island City HS.

Arbitrator Scott Buchheit ruled Friday that the plan violated stipulations in the United Federation of Teachers’ contract concerning how the city chose to remove the teachers from those schools.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew sent an e-mail to union members soon after the decision, claiming it as a hard-won victory for the union in its constant struggle with Bloomberg’s administration and for students as well.

“After months of difficult litigation, an independent arbitrator ruled today that the DOE violated the UFT and CSA [Council of School Supervisors and Administrators] contracts, validating our belief that the ‘new’ schools the DOE claims it was creating were in reality not new schools,” Mulgrew wrote. “The DOE was attempting to remove half the staff in each of these schools. The arbitrator, Scott Buchheit, ruled that all members working in these schools in June have the right to stay or return to their schools in September.”

“The arbitrator’s decision is focused on the question of whether or not the city’s actions violated our contracts,” the Mulgrew e-mail continued. “The larger issue, though, is that the centerpiece of the DOE’s school improvement strategy — closing struggling schools — does not work.”

Bloomberg and city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott issued a joint statement, accusing the union of putting its members’ interests above students and pledging to challenge the arbitrator’s decision.

“Today’s decision is an injustice to our children that — if allowed to stand — will hurt thousands of students and compromise their futures. 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,” the statement read.

“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 statement said. “We will appeal the decision because we will not give up on the students at these 24 schools.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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