Mediator Assigned in Dispute Over 33 Schools

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A state panel has given the go-ahead for a mediator to intervene in a dispute between the city's Education Department and the teachers' union over an evaluation system for the teachers at 33 low-performing schools.

The United Federation of Teachers earlier this month asked the Public Employment Relations Board to intervene after negotiations to reach an agreement on a teacher evaluation systems for the 33 schools broke down.

The two sides failed to reach a deal by a Dec. 31 deadline, causing state officials to withhold payment to the city of $58 million in federal School Improvement Grants that were intended for those schools.

The city is now trying to salvage the money by instead closing and reopening the schools by September, in a plan known as "turnaround."

The plan bypasses a teacher evaluation system by removing as many as half the teachers at those schools, then closing and reopening them, often under different leadership and with a different name.

The union has called the mayor's plan drastic and disruptive.

The Public Employment Relations Board said a mediator is necessary because the two parties are still required under the original plan to negotiate an evaluation system.

In a statement released Tuesday, union officials said the panel's decision would, in effect, mandate that the education department restart talks.

City officials said they still intend to go ahead with the turnaround plan. In a statement, Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said:

“We strongly disagree with this decision and will take all appropriate legal action to have it reversed. As we have informed the State Education Department, we fully intend to submit applications to turn around 33 schools by improving their quality of teaching, and this decision bears no impact on our ability to do so.”

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