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New York

State labor board agrees to appoint mediator in evaluation talks

The state's labor relations board has heeded a teachers union request to appoint a mediator to broker a compromise on teacher evaluations at 33 struggling schools. City officials say will contest the decision, which could undermine the Department of Education's chief justification for pursuing a reform strategy at the schools that would require many teachers to be displaced. The ruling by the Public Employees Relations Board is a response to a request for mediation filed by the United Federation of Teachers in January. That request came a day after Mayor Bloomberg said that he would circumvent a collective bargaining requirement at the schools, which had been receiving federal funds to help them improve. Because the city and union had not been able to agree on new teacher evaluations at the schools by a Dec. 31 deadline, Bloomberg announced that the city would switch the schools from the "transformation" and "restart" reform processes, which require new evaluations, to "turnaround," which does not. Chancellor Dennis Walcott argued at the time that the switch made PERB's intervention moot because the board has authority only in collective bargaining matters, and turnaround does not require collective bargaining. But the city has not formally asked the state for permission to assign the schools to turnaround or withdrawn its application, submitted last summer, for funding for transformation and restart. PERB's director of conciliation, Richard Curreri, said those facts led him to conclude that the city is still bound by its 2011 agreement to negotiate new teacher evaluations at the 33 schools.
New York

Principals union chief urges state to reject city's turnaround bid

The city's bid to "turn around" 33 struggling schools is politically motivated and should be quashed, according to the head of the city's principals union. The city is days away from submitting a formal request for State Education Commissioner John King to release millions of dollars in federal funding for the 33 schools even though the city has not yet negotiated new evaluations with the teachers union. Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, sent a letter to King Tuesday urging him to reject the city's request. Logan charges that the city's announcement last month that it would abandon two in-process school improvement strategies, "transformation" and "restart," was meant only to sidestep a requirement that the city negotiate with CSA and the United Federation of Teachers. Without an agreement, King froze federal funds to the schools last month. "Simply stated, if the Turnaround model were the most educationally sound plan of intervention for the 33 schools, it would have been selected for any or all of them in 2010 and 2011," Logan writes. "It was not. It is being proposed now only as a means of evading the ... evaluation requirements." The city is required to negotiate new evaluations in order to receive federal funds and, in a plan Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month, additional state school aid. But Cuomo also said he would push changes to the state's 2010 evaluation law if districts do not adopt new evaluations by mid-month. City officials are lobbying legislators to take that route, even though a statewide teachers union, NYSUT, has said it is on the verge of agreement for nearly all districts other than New York City.
New York

As some schools protest turnaround plans, others wait and see

New York

Students, staff defend John Dewey in face of turnaround plans

Students and teachers from John Dewey High School protested outside of the Brooklyn school on Friday, brandishing signs reading: "Fix Schools, Don't Close Them!" and, "Save John Dewey." Anger and uncertainty about the city's plans to overhaul 33 struggling schools reigned today at a "Fight Back Friday" protest organized by teachers at one of the schools. The handful of teachers who braved the cold to demonstrate outside John Dewey High School this afternoon were joined by about a dozen students, who all defend the strength of the school's programs and longtime staff. Mayor Bloomberg announced last week that in order to secure federal funding, he would require the schools to undergo a process called "turnaround," in which they will close and reopen immediately with half of the teachers replaced. Dewey, a large high school with over 2,700 students in southern Brooklyn, is one of 14 schools that had been receiving federal funds to undergo a different process known as "restart." Teachers said the nonprofit group brought in to manage the school under the restart process, Institute for Student Achievement, has so far revamped Dewey's schedule and offered new after-school activities to combat truancy. City officials said the relationship would continue even under turnaround. Teachers said the startling news has already had a negative impact on the school community. Dewey narrowly escaped closure last year and now is set to get a new name as part of the city's rapid close-and-reopen plan.
New York

City, nonprofits at odds over legal liability at 14 restart schools

A dispute over who would take the fall if something goes wrong inside struggling schools is delaying a federally funded turnaround effort that had already gotten off to a slow start. As part of its application to secure school improvement grants, the city agreed to hand over operations to independent education organizations at 14 of its lowest-performing schools through a process called "restart." The Department of Education selected six nonprofits to take over the reins at those schools, awarding them more than $17 million altogether. But four months after the groups started working in the schools, the money remains in the city coffers. The sticking point is that city lawyers want the groups, known as educational partnership organizations, to cover their own legal costs for any litigation brought by teachers, principals, staff or students in the schools they’re working in. The proposition is controversial because the groups are replacing an authority figure — the superintendent — who does not actually carry any of the liability costs. The DOE is effectively an insurance carrier for superintendents, so when a lawsuit challenges, for example, a teacher rating that the superintendent signed off on, the DOE bears the legal costs. The EPOs said they assumed they would have the same protection against legal liability, known as indemnification, because the state's regulations mandate that they adopt all of the roles and responsibilities of each school's superintendent. But according to several EPO directors, the city's initial contract language treats them like vendors providing services to the schools, not managing everything from hiring to budgeting to discipline. “It’s been several months of frustration over what we see as a fairly straightforward issue,” said a program director from one of the EPOs. “We feel we should be covered to the same extent that a superintendent would be covered in the case of a lawsuit.”
New York

Among low-scoring schools, familiar names and dashed hopes

Yesterday's high school progress reports release put 60 schools on existential notice. Fourteen high schools got failing grades, 28 received D's, and another 14 have scored at a C or lower since at least 2009 — making them eligible for closure under Department of Education policy. In the coming weeks, the city will winnow the list of schools to those it considers beyond repair. After officials release a shortlist of schools under consideration for closure, they will hold "early engagement" meetings to find out more about what has gone wrong. City officials said they would look at the schools' Quality Reviews, state evaluations, and past improvement efforts before recommending some for closure. Last month, they said they were considering closure for just 20 of the 128 elementary and middle schools that received low progress report grades. The at-risk high schools are spread over every borough except for Staten Island and include many of the comprehensive high schools that are still open in the Bronx, including DeWitt Clinton High School and Lehman High School, which until recently were considered good options for many students. They also include two of the five small schools on the Erasmus Campus in Brooklyn and two of the three  small schools that have long occupied the John Jay High School building in Park Slope. (A fourth school, which is selective, opened at John Jay this year.) They include several of the schools that received "executive principals" who got hefty bonuses to turn conditions around.
New York

Unable to show union support, city goes it alone for RTTT funds

Months after a deal to let a handful of city schools receive federal funding, requirements continue to keep millions of Race to the Top dollars off-limits to all but 2 percent of city schools. When New York State won $700 million in the federal Race to the Top competition last year, it put some funds to use on statewide initiatives. But nearly $350 million went into smaller funds with specific aims: to build new curriculum models or train teachers, for example. Now, the state has started opening those pools up to districts — but it has set an eligibility requirement that the city can’t meet. The state requires that districts commit to putting new teacher evaluations in place by next year — with union support. That requirement can be found in several of the Requests for Proposals for Race to the Top-related initiatives that the state has begun releasing. In one application for funding that it submitted last week, the city could not show it had the union's support for the new teacher evaluation system in most of its schools, in the form of a required Memorandum of Understanding, so it only applied for money for the 30 schools that do. Those 30 schools are among 33 included in a partial teacher evaluation deal hashed out this summer, when the union and city saw that federal school improvement grants were at stake. At the time, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said he wanted to see the outcome of the pilot before expanding the evaluations to more schools. And as the year has worn on, slow-moving negotiations about the new evaluations have seemed headed for an impasse.
New York

'Restart' partners say they plan to ease into management role

The radical "restart" plans for 14 struggling schools seem likely to get off to a slow start. In exchange for millions of dollars in federal School Improvement Grants, the city announced this week that it would turn over the reins of 14 schools to nonprofit Education Partnership Organizations. But with the start of the school year just weeks away, those groups say that much of their first year will be spent assessing needs and adding support, not making drastic changes. “Whenever you’re in a position of partnering, you’re always balancing the need of that sense of urgency with the idea that there is a certain risk or downside to, say, overhauling the master schedule two weeks before school starts,” said Doug Elmer, the director of Diplomas Now, which will manage Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn and Newtown High School in Queens. The nonprofits put in their bids to take over schools — where they'll control everything from curriculum to hiring to budgeting — in May. But after a delay while the city and teachers union hammered out a deal over teacher evaluations in the struggling schools, the groups learned only in the last two weeks that the city wanted them to become EPOs. And they found only just this week which schools they would take over. The city had asked the schools and organizations to rank each other, then paired them off. "It was a little bit of a flurry," said Sheepshead Bay Principal Reesa Levy of the matching process. But she said she was excited to work with Diplomas Now. "We're actually thrilled. I think maybe this will give us that extra push." The federal government has promised up to $2 million a year for three years for the restart schools.
New York

As city names 'restart' partners, principals union sounds alarm

With just weeks to go before Labor Day, the city has announced the nonprofit groups that will help 14 struggling schools get a fresh start this fall. A deal between the city and teachers union last month cleared the way for 33 low-performing schools to receive federal School Improvement Grants starting this fall. In exchange, the city must overhaul the schools in accordance with one of four federally sanctioned processes, and one of them, "restart," requires schools to turn over the reins to an approved nonprofit organization. Six nonprofits, several with existing ties to the city Department of Education, will take over the management of two to three schools each. The groups, known as Educational Partnership Organizations, will control budgeting, personnel decisions, curriculum, student discipline, and other issues, and the principals of those schools will report directly to their EPO rather than a DOE superintendent. A matching process linked 11 of the schools with their first-choice EPO, and the other three were matched with one of their top picks, according to a DOE spokesman, Frank Thomas. The schools and nonprofits will begin working together as soon as the state approves the pairings, he said. The remaining schools set to receive the new federal funds will undergo "transformation." Transformation relies on replacing longtime principals and promising additional resources. In a statement, principals union president Ernie Logan said he had "intense discussions" with the DOE to make sure the 33 schools would receive adequate support but remained unconvinced.
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