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Month after turnaround news, official applications still not done

More than a month after Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would fulfill a state requirement by overhauling 33 struggling schools, the city still has not officially informed the state of its plans.

The announcement, which came during Bloomberg’s State of the City address Jan. 12, was an attempt to circumvent a requirement that the city and teachers union agree on new teacher evaluations. New evaluations were a condition of the previous improvement processes the schools were undergoing with funding from federal School Improvement Grants. But turnaround, which requires schools to replace at least half of their teachers, does not call for new evaluations.

The turnaround switch isn’t up to the city alone. State Education Commissioner John King must sign off on the plans if they are to get the federal funds. King has said the turnaround model Bloomberg described is “approvable.” But he still hasn’t seen any details.

That’s because the city hasn’t supplied them. For weeks, city officials — including Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott — had cited Feb. 10 as the deadline to complete applications detailing the turnaround plans, but the day came and went with no completed applications in sight.

Department officials now say the deadline was only internal, and now the city is aiming to finish them up by the end of this week. That way, the officials said, the applications can be on the table next week when the city has its hearing about the SIG grants with state education officials.

The behind-closed-doors hearing, set for Feb. 22 in Albany, is the city’s chance to convince King to reinstate the funds he cut off when the city and teachers union failed to agree on new teacher evaluations by a Dec. 31 deadline.

But the hearing is not focused on future plans for the schools. Rather, it will examine how the city has complied with its SIG application for the current school year, which contains the unfulfilled promise to enact new teacher evaluations. Other districts whose SIG grants were cut off are working to demonstrate that they are now prepared to implement new teacher evaluations. That’s not yet a possibility for the city, although it could be if the city and UFT hammer out an evaluations deal before a different deadline Thursday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo set.

It’s not immediately apparent how submitting turnaround plans would help the city make a case for reinstatement during the hearing next week. The applications would clear the way for the turnarounds to begin at the 33 schools in the 2012-2013 school year, when a new set of grants are set to be disbursed.

State officials said there was no hard deadline set yet for applications for next year’s grants to be turned in. But if the city wants to press forward with turnaround, it must release “Education Impact Statements” about the proposals by the first week of March — six months before the start of the new school year — in accordance with state law.

King has said it would likely take several weeks for him to decide on the turnaround applications once he receives them. That could put the city in the sticky situation of releasing detailed plans about school closure proposals without actually knowing whether the state will sign off on them.

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