State Supreme Court Judge Joan B. Lobis ruled Tuesday in support of an arbitrator who found that the city improperly removed staff members in an effort to turn around 24 struggling schools, essentially backing the unions’ position and allowing the affected schools to complete their staffing for the new school year.
Still, the dispute isn’t technically over. The city’s lead lawyer, Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo, vowed to appeal.
“The mayor and chancellor will not allow failing schools to deprive our students of the high-quality education they deserve,” he said. “Although we will of course comply with the judge’s ruling, we strongly disagree with it — and we will be appealing.”
Adam Ross, a lawyer with the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, called on the city to drop its case.
“They’ve now lost at arbitration level, they’ve lost at Supreme Court,” Mr. Ross said. “We would like to get to the business of staffing these schools and getting ready for the opening of schools in September.”
In late June, the arbitrator, Scott E. Buchheit, blocked the city’s effort to close and reopen 24 schools with almost all new staff members, saying it violated the city’s contracts with the teachers’ and principals’ unions.
On Tuesday Judge Lobis agreed.
“Since I find that the staffing questions are covered by provisions in both the collective bargaining agreements, I believe the arbitrator was within his authority to determine this grievance,” she said.
“The issue of staffing is intertwined with the questions of seniority, excessing and discipline of teachers and supervisors, all of which are specifically covered by the collective bargaining agreements,” she added.
At the hourlong hearing, a city lawyer argued that the Department of Education had every right to dismiss the teachers at the 24 schools and hire back at least half under a provision of the union contract that kicks in when a school is closed and replaced with a new one. Because both the city and the state had approved of the turnaround plans, he argued, the arbitrator had exceeded his powers in finding the schools weren’t really new.
The city originally intended to improve the schools with federal grants of about $60 million. But it lost the funds when it was unable to reach an agreement with union leaders on a new teacher evaluation system. The Bloomberg administration then embarked on a new “turnaround” strategy for the schools that relied on replacing personnel and renaming the schools.
By the end of June, the city had principals in place at 18 of the 24 schools. They will stay in their positions. But the principals who were in the process of being hired for the six remaining schools are a different matter, because the principals they were going to replace now have a right to return.
The principals’ union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, says two of them will return to their old buildings but the other four have chosen new positions offered by the Department of Education.
“We are pleased that our contractual rights have been upheld and improper excessing has been deterred,” said the union president, Ernest Logan.
While the city plans another appeal, teachers and principals have no choice but to prepare for the fall. When asked how teachers would work with principals who may not have wanted them to return, Mr. Ross, the teachers’ union lawyer, said he did not expect any problems.
“I think everyone involved in the situation is a professional educator and that they are going to do what is best for the children in these schools,” he said.