State Sets New Deadline in Teacher Evaluation Tussle

Education Commissioner John King said Friday that New York City had already lost $240 million in state education aid

New York City has already lost out on more than $240 million in state school aid by missing a deadline to adopt a plan to rate its teachers, but hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state and federal funding remain at risk, Education Commissioner John King said Friday.

He threatened to take over control of certain grants should the impasse between the city and its teachers union continue.

While avoiding taking sides, King faulted both for walking away from negotiations before the midnight deadline arrived for the city to submit a teacher evaluation plan.

All of the state's nearly 700 districts had to submit a plan and have it approved by the state Education Department by Thursday night in order to receive an increase in state education aid for the current school year. New York City was among a handful of districts to miss the deadline.

"My team and I were here up until midnight hoping we would receive the plan," King told reporters during a conference call. "We didn't receive it. We didn't receive it because they chose to walk away from the table with hours to go."

He said the DOE was unprepared to implement any plan that's eventually adopted. In a letter Friday to city schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the commissioner set a Feb. 15 deadline for the department to outline its preparation plans.

Under state law, 20 percent of the evaluations must be based on students' growth on state tests. Another 20 percent must be based on local measures and the remaining 60 percent must include classroom observations and can also include parent or student surveys.

"Principals have not been trained, teachers at schools have not been trained. They have not developed the necessary options for some of the measures of student performance and that's essential," King said. "The longer they wait to prepare, the longer students will wait for the evaluation system that's needed."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew blamed each other for the impasse.

King said Friday that both sides agree a new teacher evaluation system is needed but have been stalled by "minor differences."

He said hundreds of millions of dollars will be at risk, including $256 million in federal Race to the Top Funding that came with a promise to implement a new evaluation system, $727 million in federal Title 1 funding targeting at-risk children and $100 million in school improvement grants for low-performing schools, if the district doesn't comply with state law requiring the plan.

Without progress toward an evaluation system, King said he may declare the district a "high risk grantee" and take control of certain grants.

"It is unfortunate that I am forced to take these actions, but the 1.1 million children who attend New York City schools deserve the very best education we can give them," the letter to Walcott said.

Walcott's office declined to comment immediately, saying the letter was under review.

Mulgrew said in a statement Friday that the union remains committed to a new evaluation system and discussions with the city. Walcott said in a letter on Friday that he could not agree to the union's demands because they would have stripped the city's school principals of much of their authority.

New York City parents, meanwhile, accused the city and teachers union of being selfish, faulting both sides for waiting until the last minute to begin serious negotiations.

"We clearly understand Mayor Bloomberg's anti-union agenda and misplaced reliance on metrics rather than a child's complete education," a statement by the New York City Parents Union said. "We also clearly understand the UFT's agenda — protect your members, the teachers. There is one interest that supersedes both of these agenda, however, and that is our children's interest in receiving the highest quality public education."

Fallsburg Superintendent Ivan Katz said his district, one of two others that did not submit a plan, said estimates of what it would lose in state funding ranged from $100,000 to $500,000.

"It would have been nice to get this in by the deadline," he said, "but we're actively negotiating."

Pine Plains Superintendent Linda Kaumeyer said on the district's website this week that the teachers union wouldn't sign off on an evaluation plan unless there was also agreement on a new contract. With contract negotiations at an impasse since late 2011, she said she expected to miss the deadline.

A proposal by the Hamburg district was not approved because it had not been negotiated with its teachers union, as required. Two districts, Oysterponds and Harrison, missed the deadline because their plans were returned for revisions, the state Education Department said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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