City officials and leaders of the teachers union have yet to resume negotiations on a teacher evaluation deal, after talks broke down on the eve of last week’s deadline, but there were some signs of movement on Wednesday.
“I don’t want the school system to lose any more money,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said, adding that his staff is putting a plan together and hopes to sit down with education officials.
The money lost was $240 million in state aid for the current school year, withheld because the union and the city failed to negotiate a new teacher evaluation system that relies on a combination of test scores and classroom observations. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new budget proposal, the city could lose another $224 million in the 2013-2014 fiscal year if it doesn’t implement a new teacher evaluation system by September.
The city would also lose out on the chance to apply for competitive grants – money that can be used to create a longer school day, and for expanding half-day pre-kindergarten classes for poor children to full-day programs.
State Education Commissioner John King also threatened to tie up hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid unless the city and the union agree on a framework for improving teacher development in the lowest performing schools. His deadline is Feb. 15.
Mulgrew addressed reporters at a rally outside City Hall with about 100 people including elected officials, striking bus workers and parents leaders. They were calling for state legislation to put a “moratorium” on school closings and co-locations. He said he still wants a deal on teacher evaluations but he doubted the mayor’s commitment.
“We need a better evaluation system in New York City but I also need somebody on the other side of the table who’s not going to blow it up at the last minute,” he said.
Mulgrew told WNYC’s Anna Sale that he called the schools chancellor who then returned the call while he was at the rally. Mulgrew said he would call Walcott back as soon as he left City Hall.
Gotham Schools reported that Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he wanted to change the tone of the conversation about negotiations. “I want to take this opportunity to try to lower the rhetoric a little,” he said on WOR Radio. “Who’s to blame? I want to move away from that.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his administration is willing to sit down with anybody anytime, but he said he was not optimistic.
“I cannot tell you that I – at this point – think that the likelihood of getting an evaluation deal is high,” he said at a press conference, repeating that the union’s job is to “protect all the members of their union.”
Bloomberg also repeated that he would not accept a deal that “sunsets” in June of 2015, because teachers would need at least two ineffective ratings in a row for the city to begin dismissal proceedings, and that end date would make it too hard. He blamed Albany for passing a law that required districts and their unions to negotiate teacher evaluation systems instead of simply legislating one.
“No other state in the union would do it because it’s never going to happen,” he said, of the requirement for labor consent. Although 99 percent of the state’s nearly 700 school districts did win agreements with their unions by the Jan. 17 deadline, Bloomberg called those deals “shams” because they would just be in effect for a year or two.
And when asked about the governor’s plan to withhold more school aid, if a teacher evaluation plan isn’t implemented by September, he said, “We’re not going to be bribed or threatened to agree to an evaluation deal that does not have a real, fair evaluation” with the ability to give ineffective teachers remedial training, and the opportunity to remove those who don’t measure up.
Earlier in the day, State Budget Director Robert Megna defended the governor’s proposal to continue tying state school aid to teacher evaluations. He said it was the only way to get districts to enact new rating systems for teachers after years of false starts.
“The governor said ‘let’s link these two things, let’s make sure we get a teacher evaluation system up and running’ and by doing that we had 99 percent compliance,” he said, referring to the vast majority of districts around the state that struck deals with their unions by the deadline.
One former city official called the current city-union standoff “a real game of chicken” and couldn’t predict what the mayor or the union would do next. But he said if anyone could bring the two sides together, it would have to be the governor.