Teacher grading stalls city

AP Photo/Mike Groll
By Phil Corso

Leaders throughout the city and state gave a resounding F to the Bloomberg administration and city teachers’ union after both sides failed to reach an agreement on a new evaluation system to oversee more than 75,000 public school teachers.

There was enough blame to go around after the midnight deadline for a deal passed last Thursday, potentially costing the city up to $450 million in state and federal aid money and increasing the likelihood of layoffs and programming cuts.

The impasse could mean the city loses roughly $250 million in education aid appropriated from Albany in June and an additional $200 million in state and federal grants.

The afternoon after the deadline passed, Mayor Michael Bloomberg put the blame on Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, saying negotiations disintegrated when Mulgrew walked away from the table.

Before the deadline, the mayor said he and the UFT had actually been negotiating for days and settled virtually all outstanding issues surrounding the state’s teacher evaluation law.

“There was an agreement to be had here. We were actually very close,” Bloomberg said. “But, unfortunately, every time we approached a deal in recent days, the UFT moved the finish line back. Instead of working with us to tie up the loose ends of this agreement, they continued to insert unrelated, extraneous issues into these negotiations.”

Meanwhile, Mulgrew pointed a finger at Bloomberg when he said the deal blew up because of a failure to compromise. The UFT head referred to the city’s ongoing struggle with union bus drivers, who went on strike last week amid a contract dispute with the city, leaving more than 150,000 students without a ride to school.

“Thousands of parents have gotten a lesson this week, as the mayor’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach has left thousands of schoolchildren stranded at curbs across the city by the school bus strike,” Mulgrew said. “That same stubborn attitude on the mayor’s part now means that our schools will suffer a loss of millions of dollars in state aid.”

Bloomberg said the city was opposed to two UFT proposals, including the deal’s two-year sunset deadline and policy to allow for more arbitration hearings for filed grievances.

Last year, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 46 percent of New York City voters said teacher evaluations were flawed in some way.

“Those teacher evaluation rankings are suspect, voters think,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “But whatever their opinion of the validity of the numbers, voters would reward high scorers.”

City Comptroller John Liu used similar language as he put the heat on the city Department of Education and the Bloomberg administration for failing to work with the UFT to strike a deal.

“The DOE and UFT apparently came to an agreement, which the mayor then scuttled — putting politics ahead of students and teachers,” Liu said. “The mayor’s ‘my way or the highway’ edicts have hurt New Yorkers enough already.”

Following the deadline in which both sides failed to come to an agreement, state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. spoke on behalf of the state in expressing a deep concern over the city’s inability to work with the UFT. According to King, the state had worked with both the city and UFT for several days to help them reach a compromise and was under the impression that a deal had initially been reached.

“More than 680 districts large and small from across the state were able to reach an agreement, but the city and UFT just couldn’t get there,” he said. “Once again, the students will pay the price for this failure.”

According to King, both parties still had the legal obligation to continue negotiating until an evaluation deal could be reached.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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