budget deal

Budget agreement will change tenure rules, task state with eval overhaul

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at a 2015 press conference with Democratic colleagues

Updated — A state budget agreement reached Sunday night will make teachers wait an extra year to become eligible for tenure, establishes a state-imposed model for turning around struggling schools, and increases education spending, according to lawmakers and news reports.

Full details of the agreement will not be available until Monday, officials said. But the announcement indicates that New York’s legislative leaders reached agreement on some thorny education issues before the Wednesday deadline for an on-time budget.

“With this agreement, we address intractable problems that have vexed our state for generations,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in statement.

The consensus came after lawmakers agreed to address many of the aggressive education policy changes Cuomo sought — including an overhaul of teacher evaluations — after or outside of the budget process. Other proposals, such as increasing the number of charter schools allowed to open in New York and renewing mayoral control of the city school system, were dropped from budget negotiations last week.

Some were quick to declare victory. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said most of the policies his union had opposed were not included in the agreement.

Here’s what is included in the deal.

Funding: Education spending will increase by about $1.4 billion, State Senator Dean Skelos said in a statement accompanying the governor’s announcement. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie put the total increase at $1.6 billion. Both are more than the maximum Cuomo had proposed, $1.1 billion, but significantly less than what the Board of Regents, some advocacy groups, and the teachers unions had sought.

It’s unclear how that money will be divvied up. Skelos said his statement that it would include “a dramatic reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment,” a cost-cutting program that has affected smaller and suburban school districts more severely than New York City. Cuomo had wanted to tie any funding increase to a full set of policy changes, many of which are not included in the agreement.

Teacher evaluations: The state education department will be tasked with overhauling teacher evaluations, Heastie told reporters. The decision to defer making changes and to tap the department for the job shows just how toxic the issue has become for lawmakers, since the legislature has criticized the department’s handling of various education policy issues for more than a year.

Under the new system, teachers who earn an “ineffective” rating two years in a row could be fired in 90 days unless they can provide evidence that challenges those ratings. Teachers rated “ineffective” three years in a row could be fired in 30 days if they could not prove that fraud played a role in their ratings.

How teachers earn those ratings would also change. The new system won’t dictate that student state test scores and observations count for specific percentages of a final score. (Currently, they count for up to 40 percent and 60 percent, respectively, and combine to form a final rating.) It would also allow several kinds of student assessments to be used.

Teacher who receive the lowest ratings on the student performance segment wouldn’t automatically earn an overall “ineffective” rating, as is the case under the current system. Now, they could also receive a slightly higher “developing” rating.

Cuomo had pushed for specific changes to teacher evaluations be included in the budget, including increasing the role of state test scores to half of a teacher’s overall rating. Last week, lawmakers had debated putting changes in the hands of the Board of Regents or a separate panel.

Teacher tenure: Tenure protections will not be available until after teachers have spent four years in the classroom, up from the current three-year requirement, Heastie told reporters. Teachers now would have to receive a rating of “effective” or “highly effective” in three of those four years in order to receive tenure, State of Politics reported.

Cuomo had sought to make the cutoff five years and tie eligibility to teacher evaluations, with a single low rating derailing a teacher’s progress toward eligibility.

Tenure rules have also been the subject of a lawsuit that is winding its way through the state court system. Parents are suing to overturn several state laws that determine tenure and termination rules, arguing they violate their children’s constitutional right to a quality education. It’s unclear if an overhaul of the termination law for tenured teachers is part of the budget agreement.

Struggling schools: Some version of a proposal to allow for the takeover of persistently low-performing schools is in the budget agreement, but the scope of that plan is not yet clear. Heastie told reporters that schools would have extra time to improve before the state gets authority to take them over.

Cuomo had proposed a model in which struggling schools would be turned over to a state-appointed “receiver,” which could include school-turnaround experts, other school districts, or charter school operators who would be able to get around collective bargaining agreements and city rules.

Mulgrew said in his statement that the budget agreement ensured “local oversight of struggling schools,” and he told his members on Sunday night that “the school chancellor, not the state, will appoint the receiver” and collective bargaining rights would be preserved.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.