King, Cuomo signal commitment to APPR as state strategy

On Board Online • January 28, 2013

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior writer

This was the rosy view: more than 99 percent of the state’s school districts managed to negotiate acceptable teacher and principal evaluation plans in time for a Jan. 17 deadline set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

This was the more worrisome one: Six districts did not submit acceptable plans in time, and one of those districts – New York City – educates a third of the state’s students.

Those districts lost their shares of a 4 percent, $805 million school aid increase that Cuomo included in his 2012-13 budget and tied to their adoption of Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plans by the deadline.

In New York City’s case, the failure means the city’s schools and students lost out on nearly $250 million in state aid and the opportunity to qualify for $200 million more in state and federal grants.

Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. also said it is possible that New York City’s failure could impact the state’s eligibility for its $700 million federal Race to the Top grant.

King set a new deadline of Feb. 15 for the city to submit a plan or risk losing the authority over distribution of hundreds of millions more in federal funds designated for New York City.

“This is a matter of great urgency,” King said. “We intend to see this through. We intend to see them fulfill their promise.”

King’s new line in the sand is among several signals he and Cuomo are sending that the APPR evaluation program is here to stay.

The governor said in his budget address that he will continue to tie eligibility for state aid increases to approved teacher and principal evaluation plans in place.

King estimated that 90 percent of the APPR plans approved are for just one year, which he said indicates an intention to revisit details and make adjustments, not to allow the programs to lapse.

While a one-year sunset may mean returning to the bargaining table soon, the sunset provision can be an opportunity for districts to fine-tune their programs as they find flaws or details in need of improvement.

“Does it mean another round of negotiations? Yes. But this also gives everyone a chance to tweak it at the local level,” said Georgia Asciutto, executive director of the Council of Big 5 School Districts.

James Baldwin, district superintendent of the Questar III BOCES based in Rensselaer County, described this year’s effort to implement hundreds of locally-implemented evaluation agreements in a year as “an incredibly ambitious undertaking.” But he said a year is a reasonable trial period.

“We wanted to have some experience with the process and the rubrics we selected and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of what we had done,” he said.

In all, 685 of 701 school districts and all of the state’s BOCES reached accords that were approved in time for the deadline. Implementing the plans is part of the state’s promised package of reforms in exchange for funding under the federal Race to The Top grant program.

The governor has said the APPR law is among “the strongest teacher evaluation models in the nation.”

In addition to New York City, the districts that did not submit plans in time were Fallsburg in Sullivan County, and Pine Plains in Columbia and Dutchess counties. The Hamburg district in Erie County submitted a plan that was not approved by its teacher and principal unions, and thus was not approved. Oysterponds in Suffolk County and Harrison in Westchester County did not re-submit plans with requested corrections before the deadline.

“The loss of state aid is devastating,” King and Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said of New York City’s lack of agreement. “But just as devastating is the failure to implement an evaluation plan to give educators the feedback they need to improve their practice and help their students learn and succeed. Unfortunately, the adults couldn’t or wouldn’t come together for the sake of New York’s 1.1 million school children.”

Hamburg stands to lose an estimated $450,000 in state school aid this year. Harrison Superintendent Louis Wool said calculations are not yet final in his district, but the loss would be at least $46,000, and perhaps more than $100,000.

Wool said negotiators in his district thought they had a pre-midnight approval in place when officials faxed a final signature at 12:19 a.m.

The newly negotiated plan would replace an existing evaluation system that district leaders believe is better, he said, but “we made a good-faith effort. We do not want anyone to think we did not take the process seriously.”

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