Governor Hochul will soon sign or veto a bill designed to gut the ability of school superintendents, mayors and other local officials to discipline public employees.

The legislation (S1039/A3748) aims to make discipline rules for civil service employees outside New York City “conform” with Education Law §3020-a, the state’s notorious teacher-tenure rules that make it difficult bordering on impossible to fire a tenured teacher.

A 2018 survey by the New York State School Boards Association found superintendents often don’t even try to discipline tenured teachers, citing the cost and difficulty. Just weeks ago, that problem was on display on Long Island in the Babylon school district, where a (tenured) special education teacher sexually assaulted a 15-year-old student. Rather than go through the arduous process of stripping his tenure, district officials instead paid him $141,000 through the next full school year for what Newsday called “home assignment.”

The bill on Hochul’s desk would, among other things, force school districts, towns, cities, villages and counties to hire an “independent hearing officer” to oversee discipline hearings and to keep employees on paid leave until the hearing process is completed. It would make local officials less likely to seek discipline and more costly when they finally must.

Proponents, demanding “fairness,” have been unable to point out any deficiencies with the existing discipline system, enacted more than 60 years ago, which guarantees public employees due process, including a hearing, whenever they are accused of any misconduct. No evidence has been presented (even before the labor market tightened) that employees were being disciplined arbitrarily.

But public employee unions have pressed for this change for almost two decades, and majorities in both the Assembly and Senate—including a cadre of labor-aligned Republicans—were happy to go along.

Beyond delivering a new benefit for their dues-paying members, discouraging managers from disciplining employees would make for less work (and less costs) for the unions to defend them.

If Hochul signs the bill, the effects on public services will be severe—and in some cases, tragic. Students will be put in danger because it will be harder for school officials to act on smaller infractions by bus drivers, aides and support staff that sometimes precede student injury or worse.

New Yorkers, asking why a mayor, town supervisor, county executive, or superintendent didn’t act sooner to prevent tragedy, will hear more of the same bad self-explanatory answer to which they’ve become accustomed:


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