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With different views, city and union resume evaluation talks

They might have returned to the negotiating table, but officials from the teachers union and the Department of Education still can’t agree on what they’re talking about.

Union and city officials met this afternoon to discuss teacher evaluations for the first time in months without a imminent deadline hanging over their heads. The city said the meeting was a first step toward a citywide evaluation deal, but the union indicated that it would continue to push for talks that focus on evaluations in just 33 schools.

Earlier in the day, the union petitioned the state’s employee relations board to force the DOE back into talks over a system for the 33 schools, which were supposed to be using evaluations this year. In an earlier petition, the union wanted the Public Employee Relations Board to assign a mediator to deal with a sticking point over teacher rating appeals. This petition is designed to finish the job.

The 33 schools at the center of the disagreement were part of a federal school reform program that promised $60 million in funding in exchange for the evaluations. Both sides agreed this summer to work toward a deal on the pilot and to use it as a model for the citywide system, but those talks broke down at the end of last year. Shortly after, Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to close and reopen the 33 schools with new teachers, and the city has insisted ever since that it only needs to negotiate a citywide deal.

The city’s insistence came only after Gov. Cuomo helped break a standoff on how teachers should be able to appeal their low ratings. In a letter sent to Mulgrew shortly after, Chancellor Walcott said that was all it would take to negotiate a citywide system.

“With all major issues resolved, it is incumbent on us to finalize an agreement for a new evaluation system for all teachers in New York City, and to do so without delay,” Walcott said in the letter.

But UFT officials consider the evaluations in the 33 schools unresolved and it could prove to be a new sticking point that delays any progress on the citywide deal. Mulgrew, who did not attend today’s meeting, offered a lukewarm response to the resumed talks.

“Today’s meeting was about creating an understanding that might lead to getting things done,” Mulgrew said, adding that it would be “be difficult to work with the DOE as long as they continue to break their word.”

Mulgrew filed a grievance with PERB earlier in the day, claiming that the city has refused to fulfill its promise to negotiate evaluations for teachers working in a smaller subset of 33 struggling schools.

“It has become clear that the Mayor, the Chancellor, and the Department of Education never planned to reach an evaluation deal and the Mayor’s only educational strategy is to close more schools than ever in New York City.”

After the meeting, Chancellor Walcott said in a statement that he intends to pursue a citywide deal for any talks and accused Mulgrew, who did not attend the meeting, of “misleading the public.”

“There is no reason why an agreement cannot be reached very quickly, and we hope Mr. Mulgrew will stop misleading the public and start honoring the spirit of the agreement we reached with Governor Cuomo and that Mr. Mulgrew supported,” Walcott said in his statement.

Walcott Letter to Mulgrew – Feb. 22, 2012