Lawyers for the city, and unions representing the teachers and principals, agreed on Wednesday to try to find an arbitrator who can quickly decide whether any contract rules were violated by the city's plan to close 24 schools and replace them with new ones.
The decision came in a hearing in State Supreme Court, after a judge urged the two sides to seek an expedited arbitration hearing rather than have her issue an injunction against the city to prevent it from hiring new staff members for the reorganized schools.
The Panel for Educational Policy approved closing the struggling schools at a hearing on April 26. They will reopen in September, under new names, and with a mostly new staff of teachers and principals.
The city argued that it needed to begin searching for new hires now in time for the new school year. But the unions -- the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators -- said they were "sham" closings that violated their contracts.
Chlarens Orsland, a lawyer for the city, told the court that this was recruiting season, that the New York City schools were competing with other districts for the best teachers, and that "we don't want to lose them." He said that if an arbitrator decided later that the unions' contracts had been violated, teachers and principals could have their positions restored.
But Alan Klinger, a lawyer representing the teachers and supervisors, countered that if an arbitrator later sided with the unions it would be too late for newly hired staff members to go back to their old positions. He also said that teachers coming up for tenure might not get it if they're sent to different schools.
About 20 minutes into the hearing, the judge, Joan B. Lobis, told the parties it would be in everyone's interest for an arbitrator to decide on the issues as soon as possible because "of the potential for chaos." After a brief break the two sides came back to the courtroom and said they would work to find an arbitrator who could expedite the date for a hearing. The city said it would continue to look for new hires but would not make final decisions before the hearing.
Union officials said about 4,000 teachers and 140 supervisors would be affected at the 24 schools.