The teachers union has planned a series of meetings to sign off on a teacher evaluation system in the event that union and city officials agree on one by next week.
The union’s negotiating committee on evaluations, a team of about 150 teachers, is meeting this afternoon with union officials. It’s the committee’s second meeting of the school year.
The union has also moved up a meeting of its Delegate Assembly from Jan. 22 to Jan. 17, the deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set for districts to adopt new evaluations or lose state funding. The Delegate Assembly is a large group of chapter leaders and union officials that must approve changes to work rules.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced the date change in an email to union members this afternoon. The email stressed that union officials planned to participate in negotiations through the weekend and that there is still a chance that a deal might not come.
“If no agreement is reached with the city, the [Delegate Assembly] will serve as a planning and operational meeting to push back against the mayor as we have so many times before,” Mulgrew wrote.
But insiders say they suspect that a deal is imminent — or perhaps even complete except for the final touches to make it official.
It’s a theory that jives with state education officials’ repeated warnings that the state needs a significant amount of time to review plans to make sure they comply with state law and education department regulations. “If we get an application on January fifteenth, it’s going to be hard to say yes to it by January seventeenth,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in November.
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who set the deadline last year, signaled earlier this week that the two sides still had plenty of time. “Ten days can be a lifetime in this business, as you know,” Cuomo said.
State education officials said they would not offer preliminary approval for parts of plans, which could speed the approval process. “In order for us to review a plan, it has to be signed by all parties,” SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins said today.
It is possible that more informal conversations have taken place to ensure that a plan that is submitted at the last minute is approvable. That’s the only way that an evaluation system approved by the union’s Delegate Assembly late in the day on Jan. 17 could get approval that night, allowing the district to comply with state law.
“It’s all scripted. It doesn’t make any sense if it wasn’t,” said Norm Scott, a union activist who is critical of the union’s leadership. “Every little duck is lined up.”
If, in fact, the particulars of an evaluation system are pretty much set, this weekend’s talks might focus on something different — what the city might have to offer to get the union to sign off on a system that Mayor Bloomberg has said he wants to use to fire more teachers.
Bloomberg did not sound concerned today when he took to the air for his weekly radio appearance, which he has used in the past to attack the union over the evaluations talks. “Six more days, and they’re working on it, right?” host John Gambling asked.
“I think that’s fair to say,” Bloomberg said.
Responding to concerns that the city’s schools could lose $250 million if evaluation talks fell through, Tisch said earlier this week that she was not worried.
“Calm down. Everybody needs to calm down. They’re going to get a deal done,” Tisch told GothamSchools. “The city has led reform for a decade now and it’s really significant for them to continue to lead on reforms of evaluations. And I’m really confident that they’re going to continue to lead with a deal.”
Even if a deal is approved and adopted by Jan. 17, the city could run into a serious implementation issue. Approved plans are supposed to go into effect for this school year, but many city schools are unprepared to produce some required components of teachers’ ratings. Schools have practiced with new observation models, for example, but they have not learned how to measure student growth for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. And the union has charged that the department has rolled out even portions of the plan that seem mutually agreeable in inappropriate ways.
Micah Lasher, Bloomberg’s former top legislative aide who is now lobbying for new evaluations as the head of StudentsFirstNY, said he thought state officials would be willing to work with the city on its implementation timeline, “if it’s in the spirit of the law.”
The city and teachers unon have had eleventh-hour meltdowns before over teacher evaluations, and one is certainly possible now. But a deal next week would cap off a two-year showdown between the city and union on the issue.
The UFT has at least one more demonstration on its agenda: Mulgrew’s letter invites members to hand out flyers at schools and subway stations on Monday “to engage parents and the community and put pressure on the mayor to get to a fair deal.”
New York City is one of seven districts, out of nearly 700, not to have submitted even a first-draft of its evaluation plan. About 50 districts must submit a revised plan to meet the state’s funding deadline.
Mulgrew’s complete letter to UFT members is below:
Next Thursday is Governor Cuomo’s deadline for New York City and other school districts around the state to submit their plans for a new teacher evaluation system. The governor has said that districts that do not submit plans by Thursday, Jan. 17, will forfeit state school aid. In New York City’s case, we stand to lose upward of $250 million.
The UFT’s position remains unchanged: The current evaluation system is inadequate. Teachers need a new evaluation system — one in which the Department of Education is responsible for supporting the schools, and administrators in the schools are responsible for supporting the work that we do in the classroom.
In the aftermath of the fight you have seen play out in the press, the DOE has come back to the negotiating table. We expect meetings to take place throughout the weekend and into next week, but the outcome of these negotiations is still very uncertain. I am writing to you today so that you and your colleagues can begin preparing for one of two possible scenarios.
If an agreement is reached, we will need to do a lot of work very quickly to stop the spread of myths and misinformation. Communication and collaboration between colleagues will be key. Every school will also need to have a clear understanding about how to proceed.
If no agreement can be reached, it will be because the mayor cannot be brought to accept our position of what a teacher evaluation system needs to be, and he will once again try to blame teachers. If that happens, our work will then center on getting out into our communities to make sure that parents and others know that we, as always, are fighting to make the school system better for the kids we serve.
With all the uncertainty over the negotiations, a lot could happen in the coming days. Earlier today I sent a message to UFT delegates that we have changed the date of our next Delegate Assembly to Thursday, Jan. 17, to align with the governor’s deadline.
If a tentative agreement is reached, it will be up to the DA, the highest decision-making body of the UFT, to decide if we will accept it as a union. If no agreement is reached with the city, the DA will serve as a planning and operational meeting to push back against the mayor as we have so many times before.
We have fought very hard for three years in Albany so that New York City teachers can have an evaluation system that respects and supports the work that we do. An agreement would mean a complete paradigm shift for the country’s largest school system, where every administrator will need to understand that their job is, first and foremost, to help and support teachers.
A great deal of work is being done to make sure our vision is realized, but it will not be easy. We will not come to any agreement unless that vision can become a reality for every school.
We will keep you updated. In the meantime, we will be leafleting outside schools and at major transportation hubs throughout the city on Monday to engage parents and the community and put pressure on the mayor to get to a fair deal. Please talk to your chapter leader to see how you can help.