SAANYS Continues the Fight to Save Tenure

Case of NoteAt the end of last year, SAANYS argued before the Appellate Division, Second Department in Brooklyn that the trial court erred in not granting out motion to dismiss two lawsuits filed by public interest groups in New York challenging the state tenure and seniority laws. The plaintiffs in Davids v. State of New York commenced their lawsuit in Richmond County Supreme Court, while the plaintiffs in Wright v. State of New York brought their lawsuit in Albany County Supreme Court. The two cases were consolidated into a single action in Richmond County Supreme Court. Both cases challenge the constitutionality of New York’s various statutes dealing with tenure, seniority, and APPR on the basis that they allow for the retention of “ineffective teachers,” thereby denying students the “sound basic education” provided under the New York State Constitution. SAANYS represents two building principals in the actions.  SAANYS, along with co-defendants NYSUT, UFT, the City of New York, and the State of New York moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaints on numerous legal grounds.

In arguing the case before the Appellate Division, SAANYS was joined by the New York Attorney General’s Office, New York City Corporation Counsel’s Office, and private counsel representing NYSUT and UFT. At stake are administrators’ valuable vested property rights. A finding that administrator/teacher tenure and/or the seniority and recall statutes are unconstitutional would mean that school administrators would also lose the rights to tenure and seniority-based layoffs and be subject to the political whim and caprice of their employing Boards of Education.

SAANYS’ Deputy General Counsel Jennifer Carlson and General Counsel Arthur Scheuermann have worked on the case for the past three years. At oral argument, Scheuermann addressed the “political question” associated with the plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge.  SAANYS argued to a panel of judges who comprise the second highest court in New York, that changes to tenure and seniority systems in NY have come primarily through legislative action. Given the complexity of public education, NY courts have recognized that such matters remain best left to the people’s elected representatives. To that end, Scheuermann cited a little known fact that in the mid-1970s, administrative tenure was abolished by the New York Legislature for one and one-half years with disastrous results. The panel of judges was especially interested in this fact and how SAANYS at the time, through its legislative action and efforts, successfully advocated for the re-enactment of administrative tenure legislation in 1975.

Scheuermann went on to argue that the courts are ill-equipped to resolve the social, political, and economic issues, and resulting controversies surrounding public education.  As any faithful reader of News & Notes over the years has learned, New York’s Legislature is continuously revising the Education Law to make the processes and procedures surrounding the retention of teachers and administrators fair for both the educators and their employing school districts. In the past five years, SAANYS has provided its members with continuous updates on changes made by the legislature on topics such as the APPR system and Section 3020-a hearings, which further illustrates that the legislature and not the courts should “legislate” public education and what constitutes a sound and basic education.   

Finally, Scheuermann pointed out that the tenure and disciplinary laws leave the implementation of those statutes to local school boards, which alone have the power to grant or deny tenure, bring about disciplinary hearings against tenured educators, and implement layoffs. The legislative history and case law surrounding each of the challenged statutes clearly states that the purpose of the statutes in question is to protect educators. In the past fifteen years, the Court of Appeals has rejected other attempts to strike down these and other Education Law statutes on constitutional grounds because of the very same defects in the pleadings. A decision by the Appellate Division is anticipated in June 2018.