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Teachers union offers a legal challenge to city’s new tenure plan

The teachers union is asking a state agency to put a stop to city plans to use test scores in tenure decisions, saying it violates the teachers’ contract.

United Federation of Teachers officials filed a complaint with the New York State Public Employment Relations Board on February 12, accusing the Department of Education of an “improper practice.” In the complaint, union officials say that Chancellor Joel Klein’s decision to include teacher data reports as a criteria in tenure decisions this spring violates the contract. The problem is a procedural one, union official said.

According to the UFT, any changes to the tenure process have to be bargained with the union, which the city did not do. A section of the complaint reads:

The decision of the BOE to change the procedure for determining whether to grant or deny completion of probation and therefore tenure to teachers without bargaining with the UFT constitutes a unilateral change in the terms and conditions of employment for UFT-represented teachers.

DOE officials disputed this claim today, saying that under state law, tenure decisions are not subject to bargaining.

“The UFT’s legal effort to prevent principals from considering student performance in making tenure decisions is troubling,” said DOE spokesman David Cantor. “How many more times will the union oppose common-sense and long-overdue ideas embraced by its own national president Randi Weingarten, as well as by the Obama Administration and the State Board of Regents?”

New York State does have a law that bars school districts from using students’ test scores in tenure evaluations, but it does not cover all teachers currently working in the schools. Union officials hope that by filing a complaint with PERB, they can protect teachers who aren’t covered by the law.

The pool of teachers who would be affected by the city’s plans is very small. Of the 7,000 teachers who are eligible for tenure this year, only 700 will receive data reports that cover the same subject over two years of teaching — a precondition for the reports to be used in tenure decisions.