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Fired Teachers Can’t Arbitrate, School Says

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) - The Cumberland School Committee wants to stop the arbitration hearings of up to 100 teachers who were laid off last June due to budget cuts. The committee claims the teachers' appeals are "not arbitrable," even though it previously agreed to arbitrate them.

According to the committee's Superior Court lawsuit, Cumberland superintendent Donna Morelle "had to consider severe budget reduction measures" last year, including laying off teachers who "were not performing as well as others."

She urged the committee to lay off or refuse to renew the contracts of about 100 teachers for the 2009-2010 school year. The committee says Morelle did not explain why each teacher was selected.

But the committee says it was "initially and for some time thereafter" legally barred from meeting to hear the appeals of several laid-off teachers, including defendant Kimberly Otero.

The Cumberland Teachers' Association suggested arbitration as an alternative, and attorney Joseph Rotella, who represents the committee, agreed to refer the appeals to an arbitrator.

Before the first hearing could be resolved, Rotella allegedly discovered that a teacher's firing is not arbitrable.

And because the previous impediment had been removed, Rotella offered to have the committee hear the appeals "expeditiously," the lawsuit states.

"The union has refused to accept Mr. Rotella's offer," the committee claims. "The union has indicated that it will proceed with the arbitrations of Ms. Otero and others similarly situated."

The committee seeks a declaration that the appeals of fired teachers "are not arbitrable" and an order barring arbitration.

It is represented by John Breguet of St. Peter & Kasle Inc.

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