ALBANY – Schools that fail to get state approval by Jan. 15 for new evaluation systems for their teachers and principals will not get any last-minute reprieve from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The governor’s strongest words on the timetable come as there has been talk among some public school officials that the agreements either are harder to strike than imagined this year or that delays at the state Education Department are placing the Jan. 15 deadline at risk.
Districts that do not meet that deadline will lose out on a 4 percent increase in state aid – a sizeable amount for some districts that could force program or teacher cutbacks if deals aren’t made soon.
Asked if he had any wiggle room in the state funding threat if teachers unions and districts show a good-faith effort and get their local agreements to the state Education Department by mid-January, Cuomo said, “Nope. Nope.”
“There was not a good-faith effort by that date. It was accomplishment by that date. That’s what the law said. That was the directive given from very early on. We didn’t say everybody should try. … They have been trying for years, and they have been failing for years. This was a hard deadline,” Cuomo told reporters Tuesday at the Capitol.
The Buffalo News recently reported that 90 percent of the state’s 700 districts had submitted proposed teacher and principal evaluations to the state Education Department by an early December deadline for review to ensure they could meet next month’s deadline.
But there are concerns that many of the proposed plans have been returned to districts for further work. Moreover, even as late as Tuesday morning, the Education Department was still listing job offers on its main web page for people to help process the flood of evaluation plans, a signal that the agency might not have enough people to help districts meet the Jan. 15 deadline.
The stakes are high. Buffalo alone could lose more than $33 million in a state aid increase allotment if the district and unions don’t strike deals that are given final approval by Albany by Jan. 15.
Some officials in the education community recently theorized that Cuomo would not want to risk the political heat that could come from districts not getting a state aid increase – a move that, given rising costs for health insurance, salaries and pensions, could force classroom cutbacks in those districts not meeting the January deadline.
But Cuomo made clear Tuesday, after a public meeting of his agency commissioners, that the deadline is real and approaching fast.
The consequence for districts that fail, he said, is lost state aid hikes. The increase in aid was provided last spring as an incentive for districts and unions to come together on teacher evaluation plans, which would include components such as standardized test scores and more classroom visits by school officials to monitor teachers.
“It’s not ‘best effort.’ It’s not ‘You really gave it the old heave-ho,’ ” Cuomo said in a pointed message to any unions and districts that believe they might get the state to relax in this first year when the new evaluation system is set to go into effect.
“We never said you have to have a teacher-evaluation system. If you don’t get it done, you don’t get the 4 percent additional money, because the inverse is, ‘Well, we didn’t perform. OK. Well, just give us a raise, give us more money because we didn’t perform.’ No, you didn’t perform, we’ll continue the same level of funding, but you’re not going to get additional money to reward your nonperformance,” Cuomo said.
State Education Commissioner John King said 442 districts so far have gotten their evaluation plans approved. He said another 180 submitted plans, but the plans were sent back to the districts and unions for more work. More than two dozens districts have not submitted any plans for the state to review, King said, including districts as large as New York City and smaller ones such as Hamburg.
The commissioner said any delay in the process is not at the Education Department’s doorstep.
“These plans are a critical tool to ensure all of our kids have a high quality teacher at the front of the classroom. It is urgent that those districts that have not submitted evaluation plans or need to need to resubmit plans do so immediately. Our students are waiting,” King said.
Districts that submitted initial plans that were rejected or are still pending approval from the state Education Department include Buffalo, Cheektowaga-Sloan, East Aurora, Grand Island, Holland, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Orchard Park, West Seneca, Niagara Falls and Niagara Wheatfield.