Mergers and acquisitions

Cuomo proposes state takeover in NYC teacher eval impasse

Appearing with legislative leaders this morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would seek the right to take over teacher evaluation planning in New York City if local negotiations fall through again.

Cuomo said he still hoped Mayor Bloomberg and teachers union president Michael Mulgrew can break their impasse and agree to a deal on their own terms. But the two sides have failed to reach a deal for more than a year, despite mounting financial penalties for the city, and they fiercely defended their positions in back-to-back legislative hearings this week.

Negotiations resumed this week, and Cuomo said he’s planning to “firmly request” they get a deal done.

“If they don’t, then let the state step in and let the state … determine the evaluation process and impose it on the city of New York,” said Cuomo, who was flanked at a press conference by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate leaders Jeff Klein and Dean Skelos.

Cuomo said he would propose a law that would give the State Education Department and the Board of Regents the ability to select and approve a plan for New York City. Cuomo said the city would still be in charge of implementing the plan.

Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that he “would prefer a negotiated settlement,” but supported state intervention if talks fail again.

Last year, Cuomo convinced legislators to let him tie state school aid increases to teacher evaluations. Most districts complied with the law and got their evaluation plans in by a Jan. 17 deadline. New York City’s absence, Cuomo said today, was the “notable exception.”

It’s not the first time that a state takeover in evaluation planning was floated. Last year, more than a dozen education reform groups, including StudentsFirst and Democrats for Education Reform, asked Cuomo to give the state authority to adopt a default plan for districts that didn’t have a deal in place by a certain deadline.

Update: The teachers union have also called for this plan in the past. In 2011, when the UFT and the city were at another stalemate on negotiations, Mulgrew wrote a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott requesting that the two sides use a binding arbitrator to settle a dispute.

More recently, groups that have spent months lobbying locally for a deal have given up hope and called on Cuomo’s intervention.

“We don’t have the right local leadership to come to a deal,” Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence, said this week. “If the governor wants a meaningful evaluation system, he’s going to have to get more involved.”

New York City is already down $240 million in state aid this year, because of the missed Jan. 17 deadline. The gap will result in steep cuts to the Department of Education’s central and school budgets, Bloomberg said yesterday.

Bloomberg is asking the legislature to restore that funding and he has some support in the Assembly from Silver, and Brooklyn Assemblyman James Brennan, who proposed legislation to revoke the penalty.

Still, Cuomo said today he’s standing his ground. “They missed the deadline. A deadline is a deadline.”

Today, top legislators signaled that they are inclined to fulfill Cuomo’s teacher evaluation wishes again this year.

Klein and Silver, two New York City Democrats, said they supported the effort to prevent further cuts to school budgets.

“I think that it’s appropriate to put in place a system … to make sure our children don’t lose the resources that those $250 million will provide,” Silver said.

“We can’t have have another situation where the union and the mayor can’t agree and our children suffer because of it,” said Klein, who heads a breakaway Democrat coalition of lawmakers in the Senate.

Skelos, the Republican leader who shares power in the senate with Klein, was less committal in his remarks.

“I agree with the governor that the deadline has passed and hopefully the two sides will come together prospectively,” Skelos said.

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.

Half-priced homes

Detroit teachers and school employees are about to get a major perk: Discount houses

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is announcing an educator discount that will allow employees of all Detroit schools to buy houses from the Land Bank at 50 percent off.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting ready this morning to announce a major effort to lure teachers and other school employees to the city of Detroit: Offering them half-priced homes.

According to a press release that’s expected to be released at an event this morning, the mayor plans to announce that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter or parochial schools — will now get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

That discount is already available to city employees, retirees and their families. Now it will be available to full-time employees of schools located in the city.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future,” Duggan is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.”

If the effort can convince teachers to live in the city rather than surrounding suburbs, it could help a stabilize the population decline that has led to blight and neighborhood deterioration in many parts of the city.

For city schools, the discounts give administrators another perk to offer prospective employees. District and charter schools in Detroit face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers.

Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.

In the press release, he’s quoted praising the discount program. “There is an opportunity and need to provide innovative solutions to recruit and retain teachers to work with our children in Detroit.”

The Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program will be announced at an event scheduled for 10:45 this morning in front of a Land Bank house in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood.

The Land Bank currently auctions three homes per day through its website, with bidding starting at $1,000.