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City calls off state hearing to restore federal improvement grants

City officials won’t be heading to Albany this week after all to petition State Education Commissioner John King to restore federal funding for 33 struggling schools.

King cut off the funds, known as School Improvement Grants, last month when New York City failed to settle on new teacher evaluations by his end-of-2011 deadline. Nine other districts lost their funding for the same reason.

All asked for hearings to appeal King’s decree, and those hearings were set to begin last Friday. City officials were due to make their case for the funds Wednesday morning.

But starting just hours after the news broke on Thursday that the state and its main teachers union, NYSUT, had agreed on a framework for new evaluations, all of the districts asked for their hearings to be adjourned, according to an SED spokesman, Dennis Tompkins.

It’s not clear exactly how the state’s evaluations deal would change what districts planned to say during their hearings.

The deal affects next year’s evaluations, but the hearings are meant for districts to show that they are complying with the requirements of this year’s SIG grants. A chief requirement is that they adopted teacher evaluations for the eligible schools that match the state’s 2010 evaluation law, which hasn’t yet been altered.

Pressured by the loss of SIG funding and by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s evaluations ultimatum, in the last month some upstate districts arrived at or neared local agreements based on the 2010 law. Those districts might be motivated to delay their appeals hearings to fine-tune their agreements or adapt them to incorporate the latest requirements.

New York City is not in that position. The nine other districts receiving SIG funds signaled that they had at least tried to comply with the 2010 evaluations law, but Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told King in December that sparring with the teachers union meant the city would not attempt even that. City officials said last week that despite progress in talks with the UFT, they were looking toward a citywide evaluations system and not trying to reach a partial agreement for just the 33 schools receiving SIG grants.

Instead, city officials signaled last week that the city’s self-defense would focus in part on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to “turn around” 33 low-performing schools by closing and reopening them with new names and new teachers. That strategy would enable the schools to receive SIG funds even without new teacher evaluations. But it would not start until September, so those plans also would not affect this year’s SIG funding.

State officials said last week that there was no hard submissions deadline for applications for next year’s grants. 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. At this point, for turnaround to proceed, the city will almost certainly have to release details about school closure proposals without actually knowing whether the state will sign off on them.

A spokesman for the city Department of Education, Matthew Mittenthal, said the hearing to restore the city’s SIG funds would be rescheduled. Tompkins said none of the hearings had yet been rescheduled.

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