State, city unions file lawsuit against school receivership

Feb 10, 2016

The Buffalo Teachers Federation and New York State United Teachers field a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Albany Tuesday against the receivership law. In November, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia issued a ruling that Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash has the power to impose changes at five persistently struggling schools without union approval. WBFO's Focus on Education reporter Eileen Buckley spoke with both unions about the legal battle.

Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash was given the authority by the NYSED Commissioner to overstep the teachers contract under receivership.
Credit WBFO file photo by Eileen Buckley

"Basically what we have is a challenge on the constitutionality of receivership where they say one person can decide what a contract says or doesn't say," said Phil Rumore, President, Buffalo Teachers Federation.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore.
Credit WBFO News file photo

Rumore tells WBFO News the unions spent many hours preparing their lawsuit. Rumore argues that receivership will not help students. He noted superintendent and state education commissioner denied proposals to help lower class sizes in an attempt to improve the schools. 

"You have a superintendent and commissioner that have made changes to our contract without even saying how this is going to improve the education of our kids," responded Rumore. "At the same time, they turn down our request to negotiate class size. It's insane."
                 
This lawsuit also questions the use of standardized testing to determine failing city schools.  The state's Common Core Task Force has recommended against the tests for teacher evaluations, a Task Force Elia was a part of.    

NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
Credit Eileen Buckley / WBFO File Photo

NYSUT spokesman Matt Smith tells us receivership could have far-reaching implications beyond Buffalo.

"The legislature's action pertaining to school receivership was done to improve student achievement. It was not done to nullify contracts or to penalize teachers," explained Smith.

Both the state education and city school district said it is not their policy not comment on 'pending litigation.'