January 26, 2012

As Evaluation Talks Resume, Teachers Press for a Resolution

Original article published in the New York Times by Anna Philips

More than a hundred teachers who work at struggling schools that had almost $60 million in federal grants blocked by the state are asking the city and union to come together so the money can be restored.

In a letter addressed to Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott and the teachers union president Michael Mulgrew that was delivered last week, teachers petitioned the two sides to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation system that would fulfill the requirements of the federal grant and allow the state to restore their financing.

Many of the teachers are members of Educators 4 Excellence, a nonprofit group made up of current and former teachers that has challenged the union’s long-held positions on merit pay and tenure.

On Wednesday, Mr. Mulgrew announced that the city and the union have returned to informal talks. “We are happy that the Governor’s intervention over teacher evaluations has led to communication between New York City and the UFT,” he said.

In late December, teacher evaluation negotiations between the city and the teachers union fell apart, leading State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. to suspend $58 million in federal grant money that was intended for 33 struggling schools. Having a new evaluation system was a condition of the grant and, without one, those schools were told to halt spending.

“Our schools have been able to afford extra books for lower-level students, much-needed classroom technology, after-school programming that would otherwise be unaffordable in this budget climate, and additional staffing such as master teachers, turnaround teachers, and teaching residents,” teachers from 13 of the 33 schools wrote in their letter. “Now all of this progress is in jeopardy.”

In their letter, the teachers do not take a position on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to close and reopen 33 schools this year, removing half of their staff and, in many cases, their principals. This strategy could allow the city to avoid negotiating a new teacher evaluation system with the union, while restoring the grant money to some of the schools.