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Legal Rulings Favor Teachers' Union

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 08:10 AM

In the news, the United Federation of Teachers had a good day on Monday when it received favorable legal rulings in two cases affecting its members.

As Gotham Schools reports, the Public Employment Relations Board, the arbiter of matters involving public employees in the state, ruled that the city must use a mediator to continue negotiations with the union over establishing a teacher evaluation system at 33 troubled schools -- even though the city has moved beyond the plan that would have required such an agreement.

It's a long, complicated saga, but it's not over yet -- the city is considering an appeal -- so it's worth a listen:

To receive nearly $60 million in federal money to help 33 schools that had been designated in need of improvement, the city needed to obtain an agreement with the teachers' union for a teacher evaluation system at those schools.

The city and union failed to reach that agreement by Dec. 31, and the state, which controls the federal money, said it would withhold the money from the city's Education Department. So Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg decided to do an end-run around the union and place the schools in a different federal program -- known as "turnaround" -- that would not require a teacher evaluation system to be in place.

The city has since gone ahead with the mayor's plan with a reduced list of 24 schools, and voted on April 27 to shut those schools, remove about half the staff members, replace administrators -- and then open the schools with new names, though the same students, by September. The union has filed suit to block that plan.

Meanwhile, the Public Employment Relations Board ruled Monday that the city must go ahead with its original plan to reach a teacher evaluation system at those 33 schools, and has "ordered the city into mediated talks" with the union, Gotham reports.

City lawyers are regrouping after the setback. “We strongly disagree with the board’s ruling and are reviewing our legal options,” said Department of Education spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti in a statement.

The ruling is separate from the lawsuit that the U.F.T. filed last week to stop the city from carrying out turnaround at 24 schools. But U.F.T. President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement that PERB had supported a point that is fundamental to the union’s case.

“As we plan to tell the court at this week’s hearing, today’s PERB decision is an affirmation that the Department of Education needs to work with the teachers to find a way to improve these schools,” he said.

The board also weighed in on a long-simmering matter involving the unionization of teachers at the city's first charter schools, the Sisulu-Walker Charter School in Harlem. The board certified the United Federation of Teachers as the bargaining agent at the schools.

Monday was a day of celebration at Public School 503: The School of Discovery, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn -- to be continued on Tuesday when Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott visits the school to congratulate students on their win at the United States Chess Federation's National Elementary Championship in Nashville over the weekend, as SchoolBook reported on Monday. Mr. Walcott is scheduled to stop by the school at 12:30 p.m.

P.S. 503 is the second New York City public school to win a national chess championship this year. In April the chess team at Intermediate School 318 Eugenio Maria de Hostos in Williamsburg, topped its already impressive record by winning the National High School Championships.

The P.S. 503 chess team is only about a year old and, like I.S. 318, it won its championship above its grade level. Congratulations, P.S. 503.

Mr. Walcott, who did a furious run around the city on Monday, visiting schools that were highly ranked on the U.S. News and World Report's annual list of the best public schools in the nation, as Gotham Schools reported, will attend the District 27 Town Hall at Middle School 137 America's School of Heroes in Queens at 6 p.m.

At 2 p.m., two City Council members, Erik Martin Dilan and Robert Jackson, will introduce a resolution "calling on the New York State Legislature to pass, and the governor to sign, legislation requiring school districts to provide free tutoring services to low-income students in failing schools." The resolution introduction will be followed by a demonstration on the City Hall steps by education advocates and the Tutor Our Children Coalition.

A New York dairy farmer is donating composted manure to Public School 146 Ann M. Short in Manhattan, to help fertilize the school garden. Students will form a bucket brigade to receive the donation from an Orange County dairy farm. The event, which will also include "a visit from a dairy farmer and dairy calf to educate students on agriculture," takes place from 10 to 10:45 a.m. at the school at 421 East 106 Street.

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