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Queens Chronicle

City teacher evaluation negotiations between UFT and Bloomberg break down; $250 million in aid at risk

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013 5:44 pm | Updated: 5:31 pm, Fri Jan 18, 2013.

Months upon months of talks over teacher evaluations broke down Thursday afternoon only hours before Gov. Cuomo’s deadline to submit a deal or lose $250 million in state education funding.

In an email to members, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the union had told Cuomo that negotiations with the city have ceased and that they do not expect to meet the deadline of midnight, Thursday night.

That led to an afternoon of finger pointing between the UFT and the city in which both sides said there was a deal in place but the other walked away from it at the last minute.

“It is particularly painful to make this announcement because last night our negotiators had reached agreement – but Mayor Bloomberg blew the deal up in the early hours today, and despite the involvement of state officials we could not put it back together,” Mulgrew said in the email to members.

He slammed the mayor, saying that it was he who killed the accord.

“The current administration only wants to play politics with our children,” Mulgrew said. 

Bloomberg, at an afternoon press conference, admitted that there was a deal, but insisted it was the UFT, not the city, that walked away from it.

The two sides appeared to have reached an agreement on most substantive issues, with the biggest difference being when a plan would sunset. 

“By now, I’m sure you’re all aware that United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew unilaterally walked away from our negotiations concerning a new teacher evaluation system,” Bloomberg said Thursday afternoon. “This is deeply regrettable, because after many days of around-the-clock negotiations, we had resolved nearly all the outstanding issues raised by the state teacher evaluation law.”

Bloomberg confirmed that the sunset provision was one of two issues the city and UFT disagreed on.

He added that the union wanted a sunset provision in 2015, which Bloomberg disagreed with. 

“That condition would essentially render the entire agreement meaningless. That’s because the process of removing an ineffective teacher requires two years’, that’s correct two years’, time to get an ineffective teacher out of the classroom, and if the agreement sunset in two years the whole thing would be a joke,” he said. 

But most of the teacher evaluation plans submitted by other school districts statewide eclipse after just one year. Bloomberg called those deals  “a sham.” 

The mayor also said the city opposed a union request to double the number of arbitration hearings for teachers who file grievances.

“That would make it again harder to weed out ineffective teachers because more and more of these cases would go to arbitrators and it would bog our principals down in lengthy arbitration hearings taking precious time away from their duties as school leaders,” Bloomberg said.

A number of sources said the sunset provision was the main sticking point between the two sides and union leaders tried to strengthen their argument in favor of a two-year expiration date by noting the sunset provisions in deals struck in other school districts.

Though both sides appeared to throw in the towel on having a deal in place by midnight, State Education Commissioner John King still held out hope this afternoon.

“Even at this late hour, Mayor Bloomberg and United Federation of Teachers President Mulgrew still have time.  They can still put aside what seem to be minor differences and resolve this crisis,” King said in a statement. “We want to get to ‘yes.' We’ve been working with UFT and the city for several days. We’ve provided technical assistance. We’ve provided answers and options from approved plans. We have a detailed perspective on what each side is proposing.  I’m confident that if the mayor and Mr. Mulgrew act quickly, we can review a plan in time to meet the deadline.”

But optimism seemed to be fading on all fronts as the sun set on Thursday. State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) lamented the lack of a deal.

“I’m concerned,” he said. “Unless they figure something out soon, we’re going to lose a lot of money that we desperately need.”

Gianaris said he wasn’t sure if there was any way to get the lost $250 million without a deal or if there was anything the Legislature can do.

“It’s really up to the governor,” he said. 

Three other school districts — Harrison in Westchester County, Pine Plains in Dutchess County and Fallsburg in Sullivan County — have also not submitted teacher evaluation plans as of Thursday evening. Hamburg, a suburb of Buffalo, submitted a deal, but UFT members there voted it down. 

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