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With state's evals deal said to be set, all eyes turn to city's talks

All eyes are on Albany today, the deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last month for an agreement on new teacher evaluations.

The deadline is for the state teachers union, NYSUT, to set aside its lawsuit over the evaluations and reach an agreement with the State Education Department over how new evaluations should be structured.

The word on the street — and in the Capitol parking lot, which Cuomo exited early Wednesday — is that SED and NYSUT appear nearly assured of meeting that deadline. But the specifics of an agreement remain opaque. Last spring, NYSUT had sued over Cuomo’s bid to increase the weight test scores play in the evaluations.

Now, attention among the governor’s staff has turned to the city’s own evaluations impasse. Just a month ago, Cuomo gave the city a year to resolve its conflicts, which have focused on the appeals process for teachers who receive low ratings. But he seems eager to be able to announce a statewide sweep of teacher evaluation deals.

Whether a sweep is in Cuomo’s grasp remains unclear.

After initially appearing unwilling to step into the city’s conflict, Cuomo has been brokering talks between the city and UFT in recent days. UFT President Michael Mulgrew returned from Albany Wednesday afternoon in order to attend a meeting of the union’s Delegate Assembly, where union leaders voted against Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to offer merit pay to teachers who get high scores on new evaluations. He left behind Michael Mendel, the union secretary, and Adam Ross, the union’s top lawyer.

Union officials said Wednesday afternoon that Mulgrew’s return to Albany had not yet been set. But he is already due there for this weekend’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, where legislators are gearing up to push the DREAM Act to aid undocumented students.

One rumor circulating among people who have been paying close attention to the negotiations is that top SED officials have blocked out noon today for a press conference. But a spokesman for Cuomo said no press conference was planned.

What is clear is that today’s deadline can’t involve the kind of late-night brinksmanship that sometimes characterizes union-city negotiations.That’s because Cuomo vowed to use the budget amendment process to change the state’s teacher evaluation law if there is no agreement today — and today is also the deadline for him to propose budget amendments.

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