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UFT asks PERB to help restart evaluation talks

DOE walks out of negotiations to reach deal for 33 schools, jeopardizing $60 million

UFT President Michael Mulgrew discusses the union’s decision to go to PERB to trCara MetzUFT President Michael Mulgrew discusses the union’s decision to go to PERB to try to restart negotiations for a teacher evaluation system for 33 restart and transformation schools at a press conference at union headquarters on Jan. 13. The UFT on Jan. 13 asked the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to order mediation to bring negotiations on a teacher evaluation system for 33 restart and transformation schools back on track, after the city walked out of the talks during the Christmas break week.

Putting $60 million in federal funding in jeopardy, the Department of Education refused to complete the final stages of a new agreement to cover teachers in those schools, leaving the talks abruptly on Dec. 30, two days before a state deadline.

“The union played a key role in creating a new teacher evaluation model and we have been working to finalize its details,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. “We are asking PERB to find that an impasse exists and appoint a mediator who can bring the city back to the table.”

The negotiations, which both sides agreed to in writing, were aimed at creating a system for fairly evaluating teachers, using both student performance and observation, in the 33 schools receiving federal school improvement grants. That system was also to serve as a potential model for an evaluation system that would eventually apply to all city teachers.

The main sticking point was the DOE’s refusal to agree to an impartial outside review by a qualified and mutually agreed-upon third party for teachers rated ineffective in the 33 schools. The DOE insists that principals have final say.

“The DOE’s position in these talks has been that principals’ judgment is always right and that they should be able to wield unfettered power over their employees,” Mulgrew said. Yet he documented multiple instances in which principals had targeted teachers for dismissal without even observing them or rated teachers ineffective when they would not change grades or would not pass students who barely attended class.

Mulgrew said that teachers would welcome an evaluation system that is supportive and helps them improve throughout their careers, offering specific feedback and suggestions. Teachers would also agree to a process to fairly remove teachers who are not successful in the difficult job of teaching. But they would reject a system that is punitive or one-sided.

“A teacher evaluation system that provides a mechanism for all teachers to improve is critical for our schools and our students,” he said. “We stand ready to negotiate.”

UFT Secretary Michael Mendel charged that the DOE did not bring the same resolve and commitment to reaching a settlement as the union did.

“They didn’t cancel one vacation,” said Mendel about the talks, which absorbed much of the year-end break. “We canceled all of them.”

Mulgrew immediately proposed submitting the remaining issues to binding arbitration with an impartial third party. The DOE rebuffed his offer, and Chancellor Dennis Walcott publicly blamed the union for the impasse.

Mulgrew and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help broker a settlement, but he declined.

Under the terms of federal School Improvement Grants that the DOE was awarded to help these schools succeed, the school district and the union must jointly develop a teacher evaluation system in low-achieving schools that receive the funds.

State Education Commissioner John King notified the DOE he would suspend payment of the $60 million.

The union filed a Freedom of Information Law request on Jan. 9 to find out how the DOE spent the School Improvement Grant funds that it has received so far for these schools.

The commissioner suspended School Improvement Grants for nine other cities besides New York, though six — including Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse — had only technical shortcomings to fix. The other four, including New York City, face larger hurdles.

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