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Teacher eval law changes could ease city-labor dispute (again)

For the second year in a row, legislators are revising the state’s teacher evaluation law in part because of New York City’s difficulties in complying with it.

The legislature is expected to insert new language into the law to clarify that plans stay in effect even after they expire, according to officials briefed on the budget legislation, which has not been finalized. Concerns that a negotiated plan would default back to the current system was one reason talks between the Bloomberg administration and the United Federation of Teachers broke down earlier this year.

The change would ensure that, moving forward, no districts could ever be without an evaluation system. To enforce that teachers are being evaluated according to the system, a new state aid penalty will be imposed on districts that fail to implement their plans.

The clarification of the “sunset” issue appears to be designed to push the city’s evaluations negotiations past their most recent road bump. But it is not clear whether the change will bring the city and United Federation of Teachers closer to an agreement. A City Hall spokeswoman declined to comment today, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew said that while he still wanted to get a deal done, he didn’t see the changes as all that significant.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to comment.

Last year, Cuomo convinced the city and union to agree to an appeals process, which had previously stymied negotiations, but they still did not reach an agreement.

The new change was also designed to solve an issue that started as a major stumbling block in New York City’s negotiations. In January, the city and the UFT missed a deadline and now could lose $240 million in state aid as a penalty (Cuomo is currently barred from carrying out the penalty while a judge decides whether it is legal).

Mayor Bloomberg said he ditched an evaluation deal because he believed the law didn’t clearly state what should happen after an evaluation plan ended. That uncertainty, he said, was enough of a sticking point in negotiations.

“If the agreement sunset in two years the whole thing would be a joke,” Bloomberg said at a press conference on the day that talks broke down. “Nobody would ever be able to be removed. The law would be gone before the process could finish. It would essentially sabotage the entire agreement.”

Those claims have since been disputed by state Education Commissioner John King and Cuomo. On several occasions Mulgrew said Bloomberg and his aides were simply confused about what the law said.

Still, officials involved in the latest changes to the law, who spoke anonymously because an official announcement hadn’t been made yet, said that Bloomberg’s fears had spread to other superintendents. In New York state, almost all districts have plans that would expire in the next 18 months and district officials weren’t clear about what would happen if they didn’t quickly renegotiate new plans for the 2013-2014 school year.

In an interview, Mulgrew said he didn’t believe much about the law had changed. If anything, he said, it was to send a final message to Mulgrew and others that they need not worry about their evaluation plans expiring.

“What we’re hearing from the legislature is that it’s to tell everyone exactly what this is because there has been one man out there giving a lot of erroneous information,” Mulgrew said, referring to Bloomberg.

With the changes, districts could be docked state aid if there are inconsistencies or discrepancies between teacher evaluation ratings and other data that the State Education Department plans to monitor and analyze.

New York City remains without an evaluation plan. It has until May 28 to submit a plan; if the city misses that deadline, King will assign an evaluation system by June 1 and impose it by July 1.

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