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.