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Schenectady teacher joins lawsuit against evaluations

Schenectady teacher joins lawsuit against evaluations

The president of the Schenectady teachers union, Juliet Benaquisto, is one of four teachers across t
Schenectady teacher joins lawsuit against evaluations
Student artwork by Nadia in Kristen Olochnowicz's second grade class at Van Corlaer Elementary School on Dec. 12, 2014.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson

The president of the Schenectady teachers union, Juliet Benaquisto, is one of four teachers across the state suing the Board of Regents and state Education Department, alleging a new teacher-evaluation law violates collective bargaining rights.

New York State United Teachers and a handful of local teachers unions across the state also joined the suit, which argues regulations for teacher evaluations adopted by the regents give too much authority to superintendents to develop teacher-improvement plans. They also argue rules that allow state officials to supercede local agreements with “corrective action plans” go too far.

“Not everyone may believe this but much of the things that are collectively bargained on behalf of teachers improves the learning environment for students,” Benaquisto said, citing language in teacher contracts that limits class size or sets aside time for teachers to prepare lesson plans.

The unions contend the state’s public employee laws give them the right to negotiate “all teacher evaluation and disciplinary procedures,” according to the suit.

Benaquisto said the legislation and the rules that implement it take away fundamental bargaining rights that have given teachers a say in developing the policies that impact their jobs and work environment.

She doesn’t think that district leaders in Schenectady would exclude teachers from the development of teacher-evaluation policies but isn’t willing to give up her right to be a part of those discussions, she added.

“We have worked very closely with the district on all of the issues impacted by [teacher evaluation laws] over the years and always had a mutual interest to develop plans that work for both sides and to do what is right for our students,” she said.

By allowing teachers a voice in the negotiations, Benaqusito said, the evaluation systems will provide necessary supports and serve as a beneficial improvement tool.

The suit was filed in the State Supreme Court in Albany County.

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

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