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With Buffalo's approval, NYC is last district without SIG funds

After a protracted back-and-forth that included a district-union dust-up over absenteeism, State Education Commissioner John King is restoring a pot of federal funds to Buffalo.

That leaves just New York City as the only major School Improvement Grant-eligible district to be forgoing them this year.

Buffalo joined New York City and eight other districts across the state in losing the funds after King determined they had not adequately complied with a Dec. 31 deadline to adopt new evaluations for teachers in schools eligible for the funds, known as School Improvement Grants.

After the state’s teacher evaluation deal in February, five districts refined their applications sufficiently to have their funding restored. Two others got their funding back in March, and an eighth district, Greenburgh 11, saw its funding restored in April. Buffalo finally got King’s sign-off on Tuesday.

New York City was supposed to get almost $60 million this year through the grant program for dozens of struggling schools, and at first city officials said they hoped to see the funds restored. But with progress toward new teacher evaluations non-existent and the year winding to a close, the Bloomberg administration got permission in March to use city funds to cover this year’s loss.

The city has asked the state to provide the funds for next year by committing the schools to a different reform program — “turnaround,” which does not require new teacher evaluations. But except for calling the city’s plans theoretically “approvable” long before he received the formal applications for SIG funds, King has not signaled whether he intends to sign off on turnaround.

King had said he intended to rule on the city’s 2012-2013 SIG applications by early June.

Speaking to a group of teachers in the Educators 4 Excellence advocacy group last week, King suggested that the city’s turnaround gambit might not be assured state approval.

“However that turns out, New York City, I think, ought to follow through on its commitment to trying to improve teaching and learning in those buildings,” he said.

One thing holding up King’s decision might be an arbitration process that the city and United Federation of Teachers have entered into to resolve a dispute about labor rules at the 24 proposed turnaround schools. The two parties have committed to undergoing that process with uncharacteristic speed, but they met with an arbitrator for the first time only last week. Their final scheduled arbitration session is set for June 26.

All of the districts that have now met King’s requirements to receive this year’s SIG funds will have to go back to the negotiating table next year. That’s because the statewide deal changes the rules for local districts’ evaluation systems, and those districts have committed to having evaluations in place that meet the state’s requirements.

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