ALBANY,NY-The state budget agreement includes a clause allowing school districts' teacher and principal evaluation agreements to roll over each year unless the plans are renegotiated.
Most schools have one-year agreements, which were approved by the state in 2012 and early this year. The budget legislation will prevent most districts' plans from sunsetting at the end of the current school year, unless schools or unions want to reopen talks.
School districts without an approved plan -- including the New York City district -- will go to binding arbitration in May with the state education commissioner. If there's not an agreement by June 1, Commissioner John King will impose one, according to the bill.
The education funding bill was introduced late Sunday, and the Senate plans to vote on it Wednesday. The state on Monday did not release school-aid runs, which shows how much each school district would receive under the budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which starts April 1.
The Assembly will return to the Capitol on Thursday to pass all budget bills in a marathon session.
"This agreement ensures that every school district in New York has a permanent teacher evaluation system," Cuomo said in a statement Monday. "By guaranteeing that all our public schools have strong evaluations in place, we are putting the needs of students first and transforming our public education system for future generations to come."
Only a few of the state's roughly 700 school districts missed the Jan. 17 deadline for an approved evaluation plan. New York City, Pine Plains in Dutchess County, Fallsburg in Sullivan County and Hamburg in Erie County are still lacking evaluation plans approved by the district and the local union.
Cuomo had tied a scheduled 4 percent increase in state education aid to the agreements. When New York City missed the mid-January deadline, it lost about $240 million, and the governor has been adamant the money would not be restored.
In the new legislation, schools must demonstrate they're implementing the plans or risk losing aid.
Under the changes, "(schools) will still have to negotiate plans, but it's helpful, because it reduces the risk of losing aid if grown-ups can't agree," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the state Council of School Superintendents.
While binding arbitration would have been unrealistic when all the schools were negotiating their original plans, Lowry said that option will work now for the remaining four districts.
Critics had questioned the effectiveness of short-term plans, since a teacher must receive two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings in order to be removed under the system. Teachers and principals will be evaluated on a scale of "ineffective" to "highly effective," and their scores will be based largely upon student test scores and observations.
King has said he expects districts to make only small, technical changes from year to year, and those changes would not affect a school's ability to fire an "ineffective" teacher.
The negotiation process was tedious and contentious in some districts, and it took most schools much of last year to reach an agreement. Schools were concerned developing one-year plans would mean costly and time-consuming negotiations annually.
It appears this statutory change will quell those worries.
"The whole structure strikes us as a reasonable approach and a compromise," Lowry said.
Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers, a statewide union, said: "We are very confident that, in the end, all of the state's school districts will have teacher-evaluation agreements, and collective bargaining will be protected going forward."
Gannett Albany Bureau