The state Legislature held its first hearing on Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget on Monday, zeroing in on some controversial education spending within the $132.5 billion fiscal plan. NY1's reporter Zack Fink filed the following report.
Focusing on the flashpoint of teacher evaluations, Albany lawmakers heard testimony from the state's top education officials and teachers' union. While a law was passed in 2010 that mandates coming up with a way to evaluate teachers statewide, it has yet to be implemented.
"It is also critical that we resolve our outstanding litigation with [New York State United Teachers]. That is also an obstacle to local agreements," said State Education Commissioner John King.
One of those local agreements is with the roughly 150,000 New York City teachers represented by the United Federation of Teachers. Even if the lawsuit can be resolved, the UFT and the city's schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott, remain far apart.
"The major issue of disagreement is that the UFT wants an additional outside arbitrator to hear appeals of teachers who receive a rating of 'ineffective' or 'developing.' This would add a new, burdensome procedural layer that is a major departure from the current appeals process and will result in months of delay," said Walcott.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew acknowledged that the two sides are no longer negotiating, but he remained optimistic they will come back to the table and the differences will be resolved.
"Look, we've invested way too much time in trying to change the evaluation method for New York City," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "We are determined to get it done."
In a separate exchange, Walcott was asked by Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan of Queens how many temporary classroom units, sometimes referred to as trailers or TCUs, are still in use. The answer is 363, down from 402 four years ago.
When Walcott testified that some principals still want them, Nolan replied, "Please don't put it on the principals, Dennis. Please don't do that.
Walcott replied, "I'm not putting it on the principals."
Nolan then cut in, "Who would want a trailer with no windows for 20 years for their kids?"
The chancellor responded, "Some of the temporary classroom units are used by them in a very effective manner."
The number of TCUs notwithstanding, it was really a guessing game Monday over teacher evaluations. If talks bear no fruit, the state Education Department and the state teachers' union go back to court next month.