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Cuomo: Process to impose city’s eval system would start in May

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to have state education officials impose teacher evaluations on New York City would begin in just three months, he announced today in Albany.

Premiering a slate of budget amendments that he will formally propose on Thursday, Cuomo said he would ask legislators to approve an amendment that would allow the state education commissioner to select a plan well in advance of Sept. 1, the deadline for districts to have evaluation plans in place for the 2013-2014 school year.

“What this law will say is that the State Education Department must render a decision by June 1 for the September deadline,” Cuomo said.

In late May, the city and United Federation of Teachers would be asked to submit their proposals for what an evaluation system should look like, according to Lawrence Schwartz, Cuomo’s top aide. But all of the details would be fully up to State Education Commissioner John King, as long as they follow the state’s evaluation law, Cuomo said.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew signaled that he would not mind letting King have the final say on the evaluation system that is adopted in the city.

“We’ve seen the kinds of plans the state has approved. We are comfortable with them because they are about helping teachers help kids, which is something that we don’t often hear from the city,” Mulgrew said. “So while I would prefer to get to a negotiated settlement, with this in place I know a deal will get done.”

Under the proposed law, King would have “the same legal authority that any school district has in designing an evaluation system,” Cuomo said. That means he could impose a deal for just one year — as many districts across the state did this year and Mayor Bloomberg has refused to do — or for multiple years.

But a multiyear system system that King imposes could be superseded by a deal in the city, Cuomo said. “That’s the prerogative of the mayor — assuming mayoral control continues,” he said.

The law itself would be permanent, so that if New York City in any year in the future does not have an evaluation system in place, the state education commissioner could step in, Cuomo said.

In a joint statement, King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch indicated that they were not eager to receive new authority over teacher evaluations.

“Hopefully, Governor Cuomo’s leadership will push New York City and its bargaining units to reach an agreement,” King and Tisch said in a joint statement. “But if they can’t meet their responsibility, we stand ready to move forward to meet the parameters the governor has laid out.”

Advocates of new teacher evaluations championed Cuomo’s announcement. But they were also cautious, noting that exactly what King would impose is not yet clear.

“Obviously we await the details of the legislation, which are important, and the decisions that face the State Education Department will be critical,” Micah Lasher of StudentsFirstNY said in a statement. “But this is a big day for New York City’s kids, and New York State’s status as a leader on education reform.”

And Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence, which this week launched a television ad urging Cuomo to take quicker action, praised Cuomo for “taking the bull by the horns and getting something done” in a saga where stalemate has been the rule. But he urged Cuomo to restore the state aid he withheld from New York City when it failed to adopt new teacher evaluations last month.

“With a state plan now imminent, we are urging the governor to revisit the decision to rescind $250 million in aid to New York City students and teachers, who by no fault of their own will face the unfortunate consequences of the failure of their local leaders to get the job done,” Schleifer said.

Cuomo did not put that option on the table today. Schwartz said the objective in having King impose an evaluation system, in addition to helping teachers improve, would be to ensure that “the schoolkids in New York City won’t lose out on the additional $250 million next year.”