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UFT outlines legal strategy to combat Bloomberg's SIG plan

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded forcefully to Mayor Bloomberg’s plans to circumvent a collective bargaining requirement, saying union lawyers had a multi-pronged approach to push back against the city’s tactics.

First, the union said it would petition a state labor board to force the city to accept a mediator in talks over new teacher evaluations. The union suggested arbitration two weeks ago when evaluation talks broke down, but the city has rejected the request.

And regardless of what the board decides, Mulgrew indicated today in a press conference that he would sue over the gambit the city has proposed to get around the evaluation requirement. That plan would switch the status of 33 schools in a federal improvement program and require half of their teachers to be replaced.

“If the Department of Education tries to implement changing these schools from their current status, we will be taking appropriate legal action,” Mulgrew said.

The city can not move forward yet without approval from the state education department, which administers federal funding attached to the school improvement strategies. Walcott detailed the plans in a letter to Commissioner John King yesterday but King has yet to respond.

In the meantime, Mulgrew ratcheted up rhetoric against Mayor Bloomberg, who took the UFT head-on several times during his education-centered speech.

“What I saw yesterday inside of his state of city speech was so sad,” Mulgrew said at a press conference where he announced that the UFT officially submitted an impasse petition to the state’s Public Employee Relations Board. “What I saw was a man who is trying to set up a smoke screen about the decade of disaster that he has put upon our city schools.”

“He would rather start a fight with us so people will stop talking about how bad his legacy on the schools has been during his mayoralty,” Mulgrew added.

PERB can only be roped in on collective bargaining issues, not other conflicts between the city and union. Settling on new teacher evaluations does require collective bargaining, and that’s why the union is asking for PERB’s intervention.

But the city is arguing that its decision to switch the 33 schools to a federal improvement strategy that doesn’t require new evaluations, turnaround, makes the union’s PERB appeal moot. “PERB has no jurisdiction in this matter,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

In addition, the DOE is acting hastily to establish that the 33 new turnaround schools no longer require teacher evaluations to secure the federal funding. Walcott distributed parents letters explaining the current situation to each of the schools today.

We are proposing to convert your school from its current model to a model called “Turnaround.” This will allow for a school-based committee to measure and screen existing staff using rigorous standards for student success, and to re-hire a significant portion of those staff. We believe that the Turnaround model can enhance the quality of teaching learning in your school.

The letter was apparently produced so quickly that the DOE didn’t have time to translate it into different languages for homes where English is the second language. Only English versions were issued today, with translated copies to be ready on Tuesday, a DOE spokeswoman said.

Mulgrew responded to the letter by writing one of his own to union members working in the 33 schools that received Walcott’s note.

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