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City nowhere to be found at Albany protest about frozen funds

ALBANY — Nearly 200 teaching jobs across the state could be lost as a result of a decision to freeze federal funding to low-performing schools, according to the head of the state teachers union.

New York State United Teachers President Richard Ianuzzi detailed the potential job casualties this afternoon on the steps of the State Education Department building, where the Board of Regents was holding its monthly meeting. He was joined by union officials from six districts and superintendents from Albany and nearby Schenectady — but not from New York City, where he blamed politics for impeding progress on teacher evaluations.

The press conference was a response to State Education Commissioner John King’s decision last week to suspend federal funding set aside for the state’s lowest performing schools, known as School Improvement Grants, in all 10 districts that were set to receive the money. Some of the districts, including New York City, failed to negotiate new teacher evaluations for those schools by a Dec. 31 deadline, and King said the other districts’ evaluation plans didn’t meet state standards.

“What is happening here, ladies and gentlemen, is that the State Education Department has decided that being a bully and acting like a bureaucrat is better than meeting the needs of New York State’s most vulnerable children,” Ianuzzi said at the press conference.

The money still could be restored. King gave all districts a 30-day period to appeal the decision and revise their system to meet his concerns, which he spelled out in letters last week. District officials at the press conference said that they planned to follow that process.

Ianuzzi said Syracuse (60), Buffalo (58), and Rochester (35) stood to lay off the most teachers if the federal funding is indeed pulled. He added that Yonkers would have to lay off 19 teachers, Albany would have to lay off 14 teachers and Schenectady would lose 11 teachers.

The toll could be highest in New York City, which has 33 schools that were supposed to be receiving SIG funds. But neither union nor city officials spoke at the press conference.

Their absence had a good reason, Iannuzzi said.

“Our goal today was to talk about districts that were collaborating,” he said.

Ianuzzi said the district officials and union leaders at the press conference were already working collaboratively on teacher evaluation systems, something the statewide union urged in an evaluation roadmap it released last year.

No such work is being done in New York City, Iannuzzi said.

“I think the difference is that real negotiations here are taking place between those who are in the school settings,” he said of the districts represented at the press conference. “So you have superintendents, administrators, principals and classroom teachers all working together. In New York City, you have the politics of the mayor and really the mayor’s interference in the process has made it pretty much impossible to move forward.”

New York City has not said whether any jobs would be lost as a result of the suspended funding. Many programs, including $17 million in promised contracts for private education organizations and a $1.3 million residency program with more than two dozen new teachers, are already underway.

DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said the UFT and its president, Michael Mulgrew, were to blame for the impasse in New York City and never truly committed to reaching a deal on the evaluations.

“We negotiated with Mr. Mulgrew for more than five months over the 33 SIG schools, and every step of the way the UFT stalled or tried to add procedural layers to make it harder for us to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom,” Ravitz said.

The union has been fighting back against that characterization, most recently in a newspaper advertisement that says the UFT has been the evaluations’ first and best supporter.

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