Appeals Court Axes Suit on Crowded NYC Classes

     MANHATTAN (CN) – The United Federation of Teachers cannot sue to force class-size reductions in New York City, an appellate court ruled.
     Before pressing legal claims, the union must take to its concerns to the state education commissioner, the first department of the state’s appellate division unanimously ruled.
     Joined by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Hispanic Federation, and other nonprofits and parents, the union filed a petition in January 2010 claiming that the NYC Board of Education accepted $1.5 billion in state funding on the condition that $760 million would go toward a five-year plan to reduce classroom size.
     But the landmark “Contract for Excellence” failed because the state board allowed the money to be spent on other things, the petitioners said.
     “The DOE and the chancellor have committed fraud on NYC children,” Class Size Matters executive director Leonie Haimson said, when the organization filed suit. “They are also violating the trust of taxpayers by failing to use hundreds of millions of dollars for the critical purpose for which they were intended.”
     City lawyers sought and won dismissal on grounds that the Bronx Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction.
     A four-judge appellate panel in Manhattan affirmed that decision Friday.
     The teachers’ union has been skeptical about New York’s actions since the State Education Department agreed with the NYC Board of Education in a Feb. 23, 2010, letter to allow increase class sizes, in violation of the five-year plan.
     New York Daily News reporter Juan Gonzalez got ahold of the letter and reported on it months later in an article: “City took money for nothing as it got aid to cut class sizes, OK’ed packing more students together.”
     The appellate panel was not swayed.
     “The article’s report of steps taken by the commissioner cannot be relied on to establish any inability on the commissioner’s part to properly determine petitioners’ claimed violations of Education Law § 211-d,” the ruling states.
     City attorney Michael Cardozo praised the decision.
     “We are pleased that the court properly recognized that complex questions about education budgeting should first be addressed by the officials entrusted with administering education programs before individuals who are unhappy resort to the courts,” Cardozo said in a statement.
     Teachers’ union president Michael Mulgrew vowed to keep fighting.
     “The UFT will continue the battle to reduce class size in New York City,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “Lowering class size is a key issue for the parents and teachers of New York City and we intend to pursue it vigorously.”

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