Thursday, May 27, 2010

Not All Arbitrators Are Equal - Ask Betsy Combier





One of the most closely kept secret by NYSUT attorneys that represent teachers and the DOE legal service's ATU and TPU groups are how Arbitrators rule on similar 3020-a cases. If the DOE believes that the Arbitrator is to teacher friendly, their annual contract is not renewed. Less common is if the Arbitrator is too harsh with his or her decisions against the teacher, the UFT/NYSUT will also not renewal the yearly contract with the Arbitrator. Therefore, many of the Arbitrator "awards" (penalties against the teacher) will have these competing factors in mind. In other words, there are very few terminations of teachers but even less acquittals. The "awards" can range from a simple "letter-to-the-file" to a one year suspension without pay. While all the Arbitrators are intelligent and honest men and women and try to do the what is right for all parties, the pressure on them to stay on the Arbitration panel encourages them to "split the baby" and make sure that both sides are happy. The DOE gets a suspension or fine and the UFT stops the termination of a teacher.

Within the gray area of "awards" you have some DOE friendly Arbitrators that tend to suspend many teachers that appear before them while the teacher friendly Arbitrators use fines and courses as an "award". While every 3020-a case is different and the Arbitrator usually is influenced by the teacher's own testimony and behavior, the Arbitrators do have a history of making decisions based upon their "body of work". However, try to get that information from the DOE or the union is impossible. Therefore, the next best source would be somebody who has had seven years experience dealing with the 3020-a hearing process and the Arbitrator decisions. That person is Betsy Combier, who writes under the blog "NYC Rubber Room Reporter". She is a paralegal who has participated in many 3020-a hearings and is familiar on the general decision making by the Arbitrators. Betsy Combier can be contacted at betsy.combier@gmail.com if you want more information about the Arbitrator assigned to your 3020-a case.

Another way to obtain information about your Arbitrator is to FOIL the New York State Education Department (NYSED) about the five most recent Arbitrator decisions in cases similar to your own. For example incompetence, misconduct, corporal punishment, etc. However, expect to pay anywhere between $25 to $75 dollars for the redacted information.

I suggest that you use both sources if you really want to get a good idea of how your Arbitrator "awards" cases based upon similar allegations. "Knowledge is power" and the more you know about the 3020-a process, the better chance you have in defending yourself against the allegations that the DOE has charged you with.

25 comments:

NYC Educator said...

Maybe you should tag posts like these so people in such situations could have easy access to helpful info.

Chaz said...

I agree and will do just that.

Susan said...

Arbitrators in NYC may be honorable types but realize it isn't that way in the rest of the country. They are typically on the take with school districts. The one who heard my case, where the principal completely and flagrantly violated state law, sided with her, and I am ruined because of a b.s. case and could not afford to appeal it. Arbitration is basically a joke in public education.

Anonymous said...

While it might help a bit to know your arbitrator's tendencies after he/she has been assigned your case, it would be even more helpful to use that information as part of an arbitrator selection process. Here on Long Island, NYSUT lawyers are able to meet with the teacher, assess demeanor and credibility, learn some of the facts of the case, and utilize that info in negotiating an arbitrator with the school disrict's law firm.
Of course, there are all sorts of hidden agendas operating therein but at least that is the appearance.

Anonymous said...

The union goons are coming into my school today to "explain." What questions would you ask them? I have a few, but please add to the list . . .

Anonymous said...

Yes, any teacher in the proceeding will be naturally curious to know more about the award pattern of his or her arbitrator, there are very little a teacher can do to influence the decision by an arbitrator. It will be much more fruitful to be better prepared for the testimony when if comes.

Chaz said...

non 3:40

You are right that the 3920-a process is much fairer bcause you can select n Arbitrator based upon their characteristics and refuse one who is not suited for your case. However, in New York City the union and DOE does not allow the teacher to select the Arbitrator.

Anon 10:50

I disagree. Your own testimony and behavior can influence the award to some degree.

/susan said...

In my case, my demeanor was fine and I told the truth, while my principal was a nervous mess and lied through her teeth. It didn't matter, as I was told later by an attorney friend people NEVER win these hearings. They are jokes.

Chaz said...

Susan:

I take it that we are not talking about New York State? In other States teacher due process rights are not as protected then in New York state.

Anonymous said...

The forum of 3020a is set up to make you look bad. Unless you have one or two charges, which are totally dismissed for lack of basic evidences, an arbitrator will be able to build a hook or two to hang the symbolic awards of fine or suspension.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know about the last 5 teachers Betsy Combier helped. What was the result in their cases? You state that she has been doing this for 7 years. What is her record? She is not even a lawyer. She is not a union rep. Why would anyone listen to her? The teachers I know she "helped" all got terminated and many of the teachers she previews on her blog were also terminated or found guilty. Exactly how many teachers that Betsy worked with in all her years got acquitted? Even her partner on her blog was found guilty. I would be shocked if there is more than one teacher.
What we need is independence and fairness. Maybe my fellow rubber-room inmates should chip in and retain real lawyers who can represent us at a reasonable rate. Maybe we should represent ourselves. I just found out that some of the arbitrators may not even be lawyers!! Can you believe that????
Thank you from a long time rubber-room inmate

Anonymous said...

I would like to know about the last 5 teachers Betsy Combier helped. What was the result in their cases? You state that she has been doing this for 7 years. What is her record? She is not even a lawyer. She is not a union rep. Why would anyone listen to her? The teachers I know she "helped" all got terminated and many of the teachers she previews on her blog were also terminated or found guilty. Exactly how many teachers that Betsy worked with in all her years got acquitted? Even her partner on her blog was found guilty. I would be shocked if there is more than one teacher.
What we need is independence and fairness. Maybe my fellow rubber-room inmates should chip in and retain real lawyers who can represent us at a reasonable rate. Maybe we should represent ourselves. I just found out that some of the arbitrators may not even be lawyers!! Can you believe that????
Thank you from a long time rubber-room inmate

Anonymous said...

I would like to reply to the person who wants to know who Betsy helped and the outcome. I went thru the hearing and Betsy was there as the "eyes and ears." I had plenty of documentation and used the NYSUT attorney. Basically, you need to "run" your case and be on your toes. I did nothing wrong but still ended up with a letter in my file as a result with a very tough arbitrator and doe "lawyer."I will never forget the support I had from Betsy.

Anonymous said...

It is agreed that the 3020a situation in NYC is a kangaroo court with arbitrators routinely 'splitting the baby' in a fashion that truly disadvantages those teachers who are truly innocent.
The DOE practice of ditching the gutsy/honest arbitrators ensures the above continues.
Of course, splitting the baby does assist those teachers who have actually engaged in some sort of misconduct (from petty to grave).

Chaz said...

First, Betsy is another set of "eyes and ears" and can help the accused teacher handle their emotions in the 3020-a hearing.

Second, Betsy's knowledge of both the Arbitrators and the process is invaluable to the teacher and lawyer in preparing their defense.

Finally, the fact the DOE lawyers don't want her in the hearing is the reason to have her.

To bitter anon: The case is the case and very few teachers escape unscathed from the 3020-a hearing. With or without Betsy.

proofoflife said...

Chaz , I was wondering if a second year teacher could file a grievance for due process Art.21. I filed the grievance because her jerk CL did not help her document and file grievances that could of helped her in the long run. He didn't tell her about pip or the SAVE room laws. Does she have to file from the District Rep or will they at least read my grievance? Thank you Chaz,

Anonymous said...

First, arbitration is a form of mediation where normally a compromised decision is made to save time and expenses. The arbitrators in 3020a proceedings naturally have the tendency to cluster their decisions in the middle range such like fine or suspension instead of two extremes like termination or exoneration.
The proceeding 3020a is beneficial for teachers who have terminable offenses, and is mostly detrimental to the teachers who really do nothing wrong.
As to Betsy, I have to believe that her heart is in the right place.

Chaz said...

POL:

My understanding is that any union official (CL,DR, BR, etc.) can file a grievance. Howver, it is unusual for a CL from another school to file a grievance. The question is at Step 1, who represents the teacher?

Anon 8:41

I totally agree with you on all counts.

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Anonymous said...

This is from Bitter Anonymous. Why do you blindly defend Betsy? Other than holding the teachers hand, she is incompetent. Would you please answer the question. What is Betsy's record? How many teachers has she helped and how many were fired? If you do not answer, then your just as bad as the NYSUT lawyers. You seem to have a good relationship with Betsy so you should be able to get this information and post it. It would really be valuable to teachers who are considering asking for her help. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It is fair to say that whatever role Betsy plays in a teacher's 3020a proceeding, its effect got to be minimal as she is a mere bystander in the hearing room and is not allowed to give legal advice. however, she does provide some information that a teacher will not obtain from any other source, it is up to that teacher to evaluate and utilize the information provided by Betsy.
When you expect too much from Betsy or NYSUT, you will be disappointed. Furthermore the alternative to NYSUT attorney is to hire a private one who provide little value unless the termination is quite obvious.

keithskool09 said...

Chaz. as a U rated advocate I felt it would be okay for me to file the grievance. I put the DR down as the one who would defend her.I also put my name down because she would like me to represent her at the hearing. Seeing how DR's do not go to arbitriation I thought it would be okay. We work in the same district. I was also worried the CL of her school would be pissed at me but it turns out he is okay with it because he told her "I didn't know what to do" My DR is most certainly gonna wonder ahy I took on the responsibilty without consulting him, but he never answered her emails or phone calls. I didn't realize that the principal is also pushing for a discontinuence. If she is able to obtain a position before the U is noticed will she be sucessful. She is on the open market now and has an interveiw next week. POL , I didn't realize I was on my nephews account. Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

The arbitrator's final report is completely accessible to the public under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). There are no fees if an inspection is requested.

Copies may be purchased at 25 cents per page.

In fact, the New York State Education Department has traditionally provided them, in uncensored format, to the New York State School Boards Association.

Years ago, the New York State School Attorneys Association was reprinting the reports in yearly bound volumes.

In all likelihood, the New York State Education Department keeps a database of the penalties assessed in §3020-a cases.

It's pretty clear that Professor James A. Gross had access to many of the individual reports, and excerpted from them in his book, "Teachers on Trial":

http://books.google.com/books?id=AilGTNBVFGcC&pg=PT1&lpg=PT1&dq=%22Teachers+on+Trial%22+Gross&source=bl&ots=q7hoX-u0U4&sig=8W87sGvajpkIiAp4hd0MDPQaFNs&hl=en&ei=vzgETK68E8KBlAee9NyYDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Chaz said...

o all thanks for your comments and the information provided. Betsy is just an aid and not a cure for the 3020-a hearing.

To the CL thanks for the explanation. POL will be happy to know it has happened before.

Susan said...

Chaz, yes, it was NOT NY state but Nevada. My hearing was a total sham, and I am absolutely ruined because my principal neglected to do her job.