A state Supreme Court judge in Manhattan blocked Gov. Cuomo from holding back $250 million in state education aid as punishment for the city and the teachers unions failing to reach an agreement on teacher evaluations by the governor’s Jan. 17 deadline.
In his ruling last Thursday evening, Judge Manuel Mendez said the move would hurt students, who had no say in the teacher evaluation process.
“Innocent students that had no influence over the legislative process or negotiations were potentially placed at risk academically,” he wrote, noting that the governor has threatened to impose an evaluations plan himself by the summer. Cuomo said last week that he would introduce legislation to take control over implementing a system in the city himself and have it ready by June 1.
The ruling is just a preliminary injunction as a lawsuit against the state initiated by parents makes its way through the courts, but it means the governor cannot withhold the aid until a decision is reached. Cuomo vowed to appeal the ruling.
The governor had given a Jan. 17 deadline for the state’s roughly 700 school districts to come up with teacher evaluation systems. All but five statewide did; one of the five being New York City’s.
The city Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers hit an impasse over a teacher evaluations plan just before the deadline, with the two main sticking points being a potential sunset clause and the number of arbitration appeals a teacher is entitled to after being removed. They used the court decision as an opportunity to blame each other for the case.
“If the mayor had not blown up the teacher evaluation deal, this lawsuit wouldn’t have been necessary,” a UFT official said on Monday.
“We’ve said all along that students should not be penalized for the UFT’s failure to negotiate, and our goal has been and continues to be a fair and effective evaluation system,” Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson said.
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, Queens’ representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, welcomed the ruling and said losing the money would only further hurt students’ education.
“I’m glad it was legally challenged,” he said. “The full amount of New York’s basic state aid funding is needed to provide a sound and balanced education for all of our students, which will not occur if the $250 million is taken back. Retaining and hiring new teachers is of paramount concern; it’s the only way we can attempt to reduce class size.”
The suit was brought by attorney Michael Rebell, on behalf of dozens of public school parents, and was filed on Feb. 5.