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After appellate court ruling, city finally hangs up 'turnaround' bid

The city is finally, officially calling off its quest to close 24 schools that a labor arbitrator ended nearly a year ago.

After an arbitrator ruled that the city’s plans to overhaul the schools using a process known as “turnaround” violated its contracts with the teachers and principals unions, the city filed suit, arguing that the issue wasn’t fit for arbitration in the first place. A judge quickly ruled against the city, and the school closure plans were halted for the year.

But the city appealed again, and today, the state’s Appellate Court ruled again that the city’s arguments were without merit. “The arbitrator neither exceeded his powers … nor violated public policy in resolving the merits of the parties’ disputes,” read the ruling by the panel of judges.

The city technically could have one more shot at appealing the decision, by trying to get the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to hear the case. But their chances of success, which were slim to begin with, are even slimmer now. And city officials said they have concluded there is nothing to be gained by pressing on.

“The Department of Education believed it was in students’ best interest to close these seriously underperforming schools,” said Erin Hughes, a Department of Education spokeswoman. “However, at this point, we have complied with the arbitrator’s order and have moved forward, so further appeal is unnecessary.”

Hughes said the department was focusing instead on “opening competitive, challenging new schools in the fall.” The 24 schools all remain open now, although the department plans to begin phasing a few of them out over the summer because of continued low performance. Other schools that had been on the turnaround list, however, are getting new programs designed to attract stronger students.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement that the ruling, and the end of the year-and-a-half-long turnaround saga, validated the union’s position once and for all.

“Instead of helping these 24 struggling schools, the mayor and the [Department of Education] tried to unfairly force hundreds of good teachers out of their positions,” he said. “This is the second court and the third independent voice that has told the mayor that his approach was wrong.”

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