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Queens Chronicle

Teacher evaluation deal fails, state sets new time frame for negotiations

State gives city, UFT new time frame, but Cuomo says $250K in aid is lost

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Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:17 am, Thu Jan 31, 2013.

Months upon months of talks over teacher evaluations broke down Jan. 17 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, Jan 17.

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 expiration date of 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 sunsets 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.

But in a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, state Education Commissioner John King seemed to imply that Bloomberg shouldered most of the blame for the failed negotiations with the UFT, and said the city was not prepared to implement an evaluation system should it have been agreed to.

Speaking to the press Friday afternoon, King said the state’s impression was that the deal agreed upon included a sunset provision.

“The deal I understood they would submit [Wednesday] morning was for a 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 plan,” he said.

If true, that would give credibility to the UFT’s claim that both sides had agreed on a plan with a sunset provision until the mayor balked Thursday.

The city can still qualify for as much as $200,000 in grants if it and the unions agree on a teacher evaluation deal by Feb. 15, according to King. Both the DOE and the UFT have agreed to go back to the negotiating table.

But any hope for the $250,000 in state funding appears to be lost.

Cuomo blamed both sides for the failure. In an interview on WOR’s “The John Gambling Show,” Friday morning, the governor said he was repeatedly asked by the city to extend the deadline for a deal, but he refused.

“A deadline is a deadline,” he said. “The city’s not going to get the funding. It’s a tragedy.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said he wasn’t sure if there was any way to recoup 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. “It’s a shame because the city will lose out on a lot of money.”

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

Under a state law passed in 2010, a teacher evaluation plan must be in place to qualify for state aid. That plan must include 20 percent of the scores based on students’ growth on state tests, another 20 based on measures instituted by the school district and the remaining 60 percent acquired from classroom observations. The law allows for the option of including parent or student surveys.

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