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Cuomo tries to strong-arm state Ed Dept. and unions into agreement

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 1/19/2012, 10:49 a.m.
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo threw down the gauntlet with teachers and school districts...
Cuomo tries to strong-arm state Ed Dept. and unions into agreement

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo threw down the gauntlet with teachers and school districts during his state budget speech on Tuesday. The governor threatened to introduce a teacher evaluation system of his own if the state Education Department and school employees unions don't agree on one, claiming that he doesn't want to lose the $700 million in federal funding set aside for education.

Cuomo said the Education Department and school employees unions have up to 30 days to agree on a new "effective" teacher evaluation system or the governor will propose an evaluation system through the budget amendment process. Cuomo has threatened that if school districts fail to implement an evaluation system in one year, they will forfeit an increase in education aid in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school budgets, according to a statement released by Cuomo, who pontificated on the subject during his address.

"We have zero evaluation systems," Cuomo said, "so the federal government wants their money back, much of it from the poorest districts in the state. We can't lose a billion dollars in federal aid from our education system. We pay the highest per pupil cost in the nation. We pay the highest property taxes in the nation, so we should have the best education and rewards, bonuses and incentives for teachers who are doing well."

According to the Cuomo administration, New York City alone stands to lose $224 million in education aid this fiscal year if it doesn't implement the type of teacher evaluations that the governor favors. Cuomo said he will increase school funding by 4 percent, but only in areas that adopt new teacher evaluation reforms. If districts don't come to any agreement on reforms by Jan. 17, 2013, they risk losing additional funding, including cost-of-living raises.

"They must understand that they represent the students, not the bureaucracy," said Cuomo of the Education Department and the school employees unions. "If we are serious about education, we have no choice. It is difficult and it's going to be disruptive and the people will get it."

Earlier this year, the AmNews reported that the state Education Department and school unions had declared an impasse on a possible deal to secure the federal government's School Improvement Grants (SIG) and had not agreed to hit the negotiating table again for a short while.

"Over the past five months, we have been meeting with the UFT and are attempting to finalize such an agreement," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott in early January. "But almost every step of the way, the UFT has insisted on conditions that I believe would undercut real accountability."

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew hopes that Cuomo's ultimatum brings the two sides back to negotiations. "Hopefully we can get the city back to the table to get this issue solved," he said on Tuesday.