Editorial: Welcome progress for Yonkers schools

Yonkers Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio poses for Yonkers Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio poses for a portrait in his office at the Board of Education building in downtown Yonkers. (Dec. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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Yonkers is finally off a short list of school districts throughout New York State that hadn't submitted plans to evaluate teachers. Before it sent its proposal to Albany on Monday, the district wasn't in good company: It was one of only nine holdouts, compared with 716 districts that had submitted proposals and 615 that already got a state sign-off on teacher evaluations.

The delay was, in part, because the Yonkers Federation of Teachers -- the union representing 1,700 educators, which hadn't had a contract since 2010 -- used its leverage to hammer out a labor agreement with the district. The two sides reached a compromise last week on both issues -- a contract and teacher evaluations -- just in time for the state Education Department's Jan. 17 deadline for evaluations.

That's no small task -- and shows that Yonkers is smart enough to know that it shouldn't jeopardize $17 million in needed state education aid that is contingent on state approval.

Now the parties are expecting the state to approve the evaluation plan and the city's Board of Education to ratify the contract next week.

The new contract, which is retroactive to 2010, would give teachers 1.5 percent raises through 2014 and reinstate 24 school mental health and guidance positions that were cut three years ago. It's expected to cost the district about $2 million. The number of staff members is still below what the district had three years ago, and the union is grumbling that they new hires don't fully replace the 37 positions lost during a rough budget cycle then.

The teacher evaluation proposal, while not loved by the union, still leaves most of a teacher's score, 60 percent, up to administrators who observe them. The remaining 40 percent is based on student test scores, which in Yonkers have been improving slightly in recent years.

The evaluation system isn't a quick fix for schools in New York, but is part of a wise strategy of accountability backed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers.

And in Yonkers, having more educators and a system of evaluating teachers should help the city further improve its test scores and high school graduation rates. The district's graduation rate climbed to 66 percent in 2011 from 58 percent in 2009, but still lagged behind the state's 74 percent average in 2011.

Settling the contract and moving on evaluations won't solve all of the city's education and funding challenges, but teachers and administrators are taking important steps to improve Yonkers schools.

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