By Joel Rosenblatt July 04, 2014

New York’s teacher tenure laws and protections for incompetent instructors deprive students of a constitutionally guaranteed “sound basic education,” a parents’ group said in a lawsuit that follows a California verdict in a similar case.

The “watershed” June 10 ruling in which a Los Angeles judge struck down the state’s tenure laws was cited in the New York complaint as an inspiration.

Teacher unions have controlled officials, through political influence and campaign contributions, to create almost insurmountable barriers to replacing poorly performing instructors, according to a copy of the complaint provided by the New York group. Firing a teacher can take 18 months and cost taxpayers as much as $250,000, according to the complaint.

New York’s education law also ignores “the minimum constitutional requirement of teacher competence when layoffs become necessary,” according to the complaint. “The state requires a quality-blind approach to layoffs that considers only years of service — and completely ignores job performance and the ability to deliver a sound quality education.”

Less than a week after the California ruling, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared teacher tenure in the U.S. a “broken status quo” in need of overhaul to balance the needs of disadvantaged students with the rights of educators. Duncan said he supports the California decision.

Parents Union

Representatives of the New York City Parents Union provided a copy of yesterday’s complaint on behalf of students against the state and the New York City Department of Education. The filing couldn’t be immediately confirmed in State Supreme Court in Staten Island.

Eric Eichenholtz, chief of the New York City Law Department’s labor and employment division, said in an e-mailed statement that it will review the complaint once it’s served.

Deb Ward and Carl Korn, representatives of the New York State United Teachers union, didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages after regular business hours yesterday seeking comment on the lawsuit.

In the California case, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu agreed with nine students that the state’s tenure laws granting teachers lifetime employment after 18 months deprive some students of an equal education because underperforming teachers are shuttled to minority and low-income schools. The ruling is tentative and on hold until any possible appeals are resolved.

Entrepreneur, Unions

The California lawsuit was backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch and his nonprofit organization Students Matter. Teacher unions, which intervened to defend the statutes, have said the case was part of a broader effort to undermine organized labor. Welch said in June that his group is talking to people in other states about bringing similar lawsuits.

Sam Pirozzolo, a plaintiff in the New York case on behalf of his daughter and a vice president of the New York City Parents Union, said today in a phone interview that no outside parties had joined in the lawsuit.

The case is Davids v. The State of New York, 101105/14, Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Richmond (Staten Island).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at Ben Livesey

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