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Cuomo intervenes in evaluation talks

Negotiations on a new teacher evaluation system resumed between the UFT and the Department of Education on Jan. 31, as City Hall struggled to recover from its very public failure to meet an earlier state-imposed deadline.

The talks began as Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to sign a new law empowering the state Education Department to act as a binding arbitrator in the negotiations unless an agreement was reached “shortly.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the governor’s move will ensure that the DOE will implement a new teacher evaluation and support system by this September and New York City schools will not risk further loss of state money.

“We welcome Governor Cuomo’s involvement, and while we would prefer a negotiated settlement, it’s good to know that should the talks fail again, people who actually understand education will be part of the decision-making process,” Mulgrew said. “We are frustrated with this mayor and his games. We all understand that state law requires that New York City change its teacher evaluation system.”

The breakdown of the evaluation talks in the wee hours of Jan. 17, after the mayor torpedoed a deal agreed to by his own education department and the UFT, cost the city $280 million in state and federal funding, threatened a further loss of $224 million in state aid next year, and jeopardized $700 million in statewide Race to the Top funds.

The UFT suggested binding arbitration or mediation a year ago when the DOE first refused to bargain in good faith on an evaluation system for struggling schools receiving federal School Improvement Grant funding, and requested mediation again this year as the Jan. 17 deadline approached. In each case, the DOE refused to go along.

Given Bloomberg’s track record, Mulgrew said, binding arbitration may be the only way of getting to an evaluation system “that helps teachers help students.”

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch made clear on Jan. 31 that she preferred a negotiated settlement to an arbitrated one. “Our preference … is that the city gets to yes without the imposition of a system,” she said.

However, she and the governor made clear that there will be a new evaluation system for teachers in New York City come Sept. 1, one way or another.

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