Commission proposal floated to resolve teacher evaluation impasse in state budget

Mar 26, 2015

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature are considering a commission to design a new teacher evaluation plan, in order to break an impasse over the state budget. But even some lawmakers admit that the compromise is just kicking the can down the road.

Cuomo has demanded that education policy changes be passed along with the state budget or he’ll hold up school aid increases.

The governor and lawmakers are stuck over the issue of how much standardized test results should count toward a teacher’s grade.  Cuomo wants 50 percent of the score to be based on students’ performance on the standardized tests, but Assembly Democrats have resisted.

A compromise would be to create a commission appointed by the governor and majority party legislative leaders. The commission would decide how to redesign the teacher evaluations. Any additional school aid increases could be delayed until June, when the commission would issue its report. 

Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan says the concept is being discussed.

“When people can’t agree, sometimes bringing in some outside experts is a way to resolve it,” Nolan said. “That’s not such a terrible thing.”

Nolan admits that school districts, who have to vote on their budgets in May, might not like waiting until June to find out how much state aide they’re getting.

The idea of the commission was first revealed by Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who says the commission would come up with a set of recommendations to the legislature and governor.

“The question is whether we would have to vote on it,” said Skelos. “Or whether it would just be implemented.”

The chairman of the Senate Education Committee, John Flanagan, said he can’t envision a scenario where a state budget is approved without the school aid numbers included. But Flanagan did not completely rule out waiting until June to determine any additional increases for schools.

Senate Democrats, who represent a significant number of votes in that house, are not on board with the commission. Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says in a statement that the present composition would be “unworkable,” and she urged any potential commission not to focus on the “demonization” of teachers.

The president of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Karen Magee, did not reject the idea of a commission. Magee says any panel would have to include a representative of the teachers union, superintendents, school boards and others.

“We’d be in favor of panel that would be a panel of stakeholders,” Magee said.

NYSUT Vice President Andy Pallotta, who attended a protest at the Capitol early Wednesday, says what’s not acceptable is holding off any school aid increases for two months.

“The worst way to go forward with this is by holding hostage the funding that belongs to the schools,” said Pallotta. “And for the governor to tie all this together is just wrong.” 

Teachers are planning a large protest rally on the governor’s education policies in general.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was more circumspect on whether the commission on teacher evaluations could actually be part of a final budget deal. The speaker points out that the budget deadline is not for several more days, and the budget bills don’t even need to be printed until Saturday night.

“Today’s only Wednesday,” Heastie said. “That’s an eternity from now.”

Nolan says yet another one of Cuomo’s budget proposals may be out of the spending plan. The governor has called for state takeover of failing schools as one of the conditions for increasing school aid.  Nolan says that might be put off for a year or two.

“I personally feel very strongly that that proposal needs to be pushed back,” said Nolan. “I understand there has been some acceptance on the part of the executive to push it back, at the very least, a year and perhaps two years, for the bulk of the schools.”

A spokeswoman for the G=governor could not confirm Nolan's account of negotiations.

"There are a lot of proposals currently being floated – none of which have been agreed to," said Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa.

The governor has already agreed to drop an education tax credit backed by the Catholic Church and others, and to eliminate a plan to provide college aid for immigrants, known as the Dream Act, out of the budget.