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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.