Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals today that he was thinking about them when he rejected a teacher evaluation deal. Then he warned them that their schools could see budget cuts as a result.

In his first communication with school leaders since months-long negotiations with the teachers union fell apart on Thursday, Walcott said the union had asked to be able to file more grievances over teacher ratings than a previous agreement had allowed.

If the city had acceded to the union’s request, Walcott said, principals would face union attacks over the data they collect from students, the way they communicate with teachers, and what they ask teachers to work on.

“In the end, I could not agree to the UFT’s demands because they would have stripped principals of much of your existing authority,” he said.

The explanation was not the same one Mayor Bloomberg laid out for rejecting the teacher evaluation deal. Bloomberg said he was most aggrieved by the proposal for the system to be authorized only for a fixed term, instead of forever, an issue that Walcott mentioned but did not focus on.

Union officials said on Thursday that their request for additional arbitration was not as extensive as the department was characterizing and would not have cut deeply into principals’ time.

Walcott’s letter came shortly after state education officials informed the chancellor that they would seize control of hundreds of millions of dollars that the city Department of Education typically controls if the department did not find a way to move forward with adopting new teacher evaluations. The threat was in addition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vow to withhold about $250 million in school aid from the city for missing his Jan. 17 evaluations deadline.

Walcott said little about the funding issue in his letter to principals. But at the end, he wrote, “The lack of an agreement will have an adverse impact on our budget. We hope to protect schools from these cuts as much as possible, and we will follow up as soon as we have additional information.”

Walcott’s complete letter to principals is below:

Dear Colleagues,

When we signed on to Race to the Top in 2010, we were committed to designing a fair teacher evaluation system that would create meaningful supports and accountability for our teachers. However, despite our hard work over the past two years, as of yesterday’s deadline the UFT failed to accept a fair and reasonable agreement on a new teacher evaluation system.

The UFT had proposed dozens of new rules and a massive increase in oversight by UFT chapter leaders, district representatives, and outside arbitrators on virtually all aspects of the evaluation process. While we were able to come to agreement on nearly every detail required by Education Law 3012-c, the negotiations finally broke down over the union’s demand to double the number of grievances that are brought to arbitration. Agreeing to this demand would have dramatically curtailed principal autonomy and narrowed your ability to exercise professional judgment. It also would have created a complex, time-consuming architecture of procedures, consultations, and grievances that would have been paralyzing for good teaching and learning in our schools.

In the end, I could not agree to the UFT’s demands because they would have stripped principals of much of your existing authority. Every interaction listed below—and many more—would have been subject to this new grievance and arbitration process. Let me be perfectly clear—this new process they insisted on is not required under the law. For example, you could have been grieved about:

  • how you write up and share your observation notes
  • when and how you communicate with teachers
  • how many administrators can enter a classroom at one time
  • the kinds of professional development your school offers
  • what types of data you collect on your students
  • how your school measures student learning
  • how you assess a teacher’s development over time
  • which skills you are permitted to work on developing with your staff

Additionally, one of the promises of Education Law 3012-c was that all teachers would get more support and that ineffective teachers would be removed. Last year we negotiated a New York City-specific provision in the law that makes it easier to discontinue ineffective teachers after two years. In the last stages of our talks, the UFT insisted that the agreement sunset on June 30, 2015—just when the provisions making it easier to remove ineffective teachers are scheduled to take effect.

Through last night, we continued to negotiate in good faith. But ultimately, while we remain committed to the spirit of the law, giving in to the UFT’s demands would have undone many of the gains we have made. As Chancellor, it was my responsibility to make a decision about what was best for our school system. Given the UFT’s unreasonable demands, I could not in good conscience sign on to a deal that goes against the original intent of the law and the value we place on principal empowerment.

While we also made headway in our negotiations with the CSA, our current principal evaluation system is very close to what the law requires, so the impact would have been limited. Nonetheless, what we needed by the deadline was a deal on both a new principal and teacher evaluation system.

The lack of an agreement will have an adverse impact on our budget. We hope to protect schools from these cuts as much as possible, and we will follow up as soon as we have additional information. In the meantime, we will continue to work with you and with teachers across the City on the goals we’ve set to improve teacher practice. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on how to strengthen this work over the course of the coming year.

Sincerely,

Dennis M. Walcott