Cuomo questions Buffalo teacher evaluations deal

Wednesday April 24, 2013

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Any side deal between the school district and its teachers that conflicts with the evaluations plan they submitted to the state could border on legal and ethical fraud, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

State education officials have taken issue with a Jan. 15 memo between Superintendent Pamela Brown and the Buffalo Teachers Federation that indicates that teachers will not be fired based on evaluation ratings from this year or last year. In a March 25 letter to the district, state officials said the memo contradicts the teacher evaluations plan the Department of Education approved two days later assuring "the evaluation system will be used as a significant factor for employment decisions and teacher and principal development."

Weighing in during a radio interview Tuesday, Cuomo said that if administrators made a side deal contrary to what they certified to the state, "that’s right on the line of being fraud in the ethical sense and possibly the legal sense."

A district spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

By law, all of New York’s roughly 700 school districts had to draft new teacher evaluation systems for this year and get them approved by the state to receive their full allotments of aid. Twenty percent of the evaluations must be based on students’ growth on state tests, which were made more difficult this year. Another 20 percent must be based on local measures, and the remaining 60 percent must include classroom observations and can include parent or student surveys.

The law also says the evaluations "shall be a significant factor in employment decisions including but not limited to, promotion, retention, tenure determination, termination, and supplemental compensation."

The March 25 letter to Brown from Julia Rafal-Baer, executive director of the state’s Office of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness, said the district risks a suspension in funding if it fails to comply. Rafal-Baer said Buffalo’s implementation of its evaluation system would be monitored and the state could revoke its approval, resulting in the loss of $14 million this year and $40 million over the next three years.

BTF President Philip Rumore said his reading of the law is that a district "may" discipline a teacher in the event of a poor evaluation.

"It doesn’t have to," Rumore said.

He said the new evaluation system is untested and so it’s only fair that it not be used to fire teachers while it is being implemented.

The adoption this year of rigorous new national learning standards, which are expected to result in lower student scores on state assessments being given this week, is further reason not to immediately use the evaluations in employment decisions, he said.

"They expect the test scores, which is what a lot of the evaluations are based on, are going to go down significantly," he said. "How is it fair to use them as part of an evaluation when everybody knows they’re going to tank?"

A state Department of Education spokesman said he did not know whether other districts’ evaluation plans had side agreements similar to Buffalo’s.


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