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NY suspends funding for 10 school districts

By Michael Gormley
Associated Press / January 4, 2012
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ALBANY, N.Y.—The state is suspending millions of dollars in grants to 10 school districts, including New York City, which failed to agree with unions on an evaluation system for teachers and principals.

"The deadline is real; the funding is suspended," state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said.

The deadline for districts to strike deals with their local unions representing teachers and principals was Dec. 31.

The districts where School Improvement Grants are being suspended are Roosevelt on Long Island, Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Rochester, New York City, Greenburgh 11 in Westchester County, Yonkers and Schenectady.

The districts may request hearings to defend their plans, which King found lacking, although he noted six -- Roosevelt, Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and Rochester -- showed progress.

New York City schools alone stand to lose $60 million.

The grants are an incentive to provide objective measures in evaluating teachers and principals that could eventually be used for promotion, retention, tenure and layoffs. King says the failure could jeopardize those districts' share of federal Race to the Top funds, which include millions of dollars more in grants to encourage improvements in instruction.

The state's largest teachers union calls the decision shocking and bullying by King that will immediately hurt classroom instruction.

"This action will have an immediate negative impact on those students and classrooms that can least afford further disruption," said Richard Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers union.

He said the New York State Education Department and King "have demonstrated that they have totally lost their way in shepherding real, meaningful reform ... NYSED is obviously more interested in being a bully than providing leadership."

No details on how the decision would affect students were provided by the union or the state Education Department.

King said the districts signed commitments with the grant applications promising to revise labor contracts for teachers in grades 4 through 8 and for principals in certain schools. The applications required the personnel to be evaluated as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. Student performance had to be at least 20 percent of the evaluation.

Last week, negotiations between New York City education officials and the United Federation of Teachers fell apart. United Federation of Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew said then that the city Department of Education "refused to bargain in a meaningful way."

City schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said the union was "more interested in setting up procedural roadblocks" to protect underperforming teachers.

The move to more effectively evaluate teachers and principals based on student performance has been a priority for the administration of President Barack Obama and for Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as for former President George W. Bush and his program known as No Child Left Behind.

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