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City and union officials are “in talks” over school closures

City officials have been holding on-again-off-again meetings with the teachers union to discuss the fate of the nearly 60 schools that could be closed or have their principals removed this year.

A source familiar with the meetings said they’ve been going on throughout the fall and have been spearheaded, on the DOE’s side, by Deputy Chancellor John White. A union official said part of the reason for the talks is that the city is eager to avoid another lawsuit like the one last year that barred the planned closure of 19 schools.

“I think they’re making a real attempt to avoid what led us to win that suit against them,” said the official. “I don’t think it’s any glasnost, there’s no kumbaya here. But they’re making an effort to avoid getting sued.”

City and union officials would not comment on the substance of the discussions. As early as next week, city officials will begin announcing which schools they plan to keep open, which will close, and which will undergo one of several “turnaround” models mandated by the federal government.

City officials are also trying to iron out an agreement with the principal’s union that will let them use the turnaround method in some schools, according to the Council for School Supervisors and Administrators spokeswoman Chiara Coletti.

One of the four school improvement strategies being offered by the federal government, the turnaround method, calls for a school’s principal to be replaced and its teachers and administrators to reapply for their jobs. Only 50 percent can be rehired.

Coletti said the union’s contract doesn’t allow the city to dismiss principals and other administrators without a hearing.

“We have a contract that doesn’t allow for the wholesale removal of administrative staff, so that’s obviously under discussion,” she said.

Earlier this year, the union reached an agreement with the city that allowed for the principals of several transformation schools to be replaced while others got a new title of “transformation mentor principals.”

“As we’ve said, we are talking to stakeholders about struggling schools, and getting input from parents, teacher, school leaders and communities,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. “We’ll consider their input, and the data, as we make the best decisions for kids.”