ALBANY, N.Y. Feb. 9, 2016 — New York State United Teachers said today its attorneys have filed a lawsuit against State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, seeking to strike down her November decision giving the Buffalo public schools superintendent authorization to unilaterally impose changes at five persistently struggling city schools.
Filed on behalf of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, the lawsuit claims Elia's ruling — pursuant to the state's receivership law — impaired the BTF's collective bargaining agreement with the district, was "arbitrary and capricious" and exceeded the commissioner's jurisdiction because it affected staff in schools not designated as "persistently struggling."
"Buffalo's teachers are dedicated professionals who work with some of our state's neediest students," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "Day-in and day-out, they are on the front line helping children overcome numerous societal obstacles so they have the chance to succeed. When it comes to enhancing our schools, it is critical that the voice of our teachers is heard."
BTF President Phil Rumore said the lawsuit "is not about our contract. It is about using child-abusive state tests to mislabel students and schools, even though a Governor's Task Force - on which the commissioner was a member - found them so flawed that it (recommended putting) their use on hold until 2019."
The lawsuit - which also names as defendants New York State, the State Education Department, Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash and the city's Board of Education - was filed in state Supreme Court, Albany County.
As a result of the commissioner's ruling, Cash bypassed the BTF contract and unilaterally imposed measures such as lengthening the school day and ordering the involuntary transfer of teachers.
The union, in seeking a decision to toss out Elia's ruling, noted the commissioner refused to consider whether Cash negotiated in good faith as required by state statute and regulations. The union also stated Elia refused to consider proposals put forth by the BTF to improve the persistently struggling schools, including smaller class sizes, and intensive math and literacy interventions.
"The BTF sought and provided studies for initiatives to really support students, such as smaller class sizes," Rumore said. "Not only did the commissioner reject them, but she supported district proposals that provided no rationale, or studies to demonstrate how they would improve student performance. This (ruling) is not about supporting teaching and learning. It is about looking for someone to blame and punish for the state's failures."
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.
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