State: Some teacher eval plans don't need union OK

In this file photo, fifth grader Courtney Castleberry, In this file photo, fifth grader Courtney Castleberry, 10, reads to the class with assistance from teacher Steven Ferretti at the Nassau Boces School in Bellmore. August 8, 2011 Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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The state Department of Education will allow school districts to submit written, nonelectronic teacher evaluation plans that are due July 1, without a local union leader's signature, school officials and attorneys said Friday after receiving a letter from the department's deputy counsel.

Officials in several Long Island districts had raised questions over what they said was Education Commissioner John King Jr.'s misinterpretation of a requirement for union signatures in documentation for the evaluation plans, called Annual Professional Performance Reviews. Some of those districts were contemplating a legal challenge against the department.

But the letter sent Friday from Deputy Commissioner Richard Trautwein quieted their concerns.

"We were informed late today that the commissioner appears willing to permit districts, under certain conditions, to submit their APPR plans without union sign-off," Alan Groveman, superintendent of the Connetquot school district and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said Friday. "The process is still complicated but it may provide districts with an option if negotiations stall."

Education Department officials said, however, that while the agency will accept nonelectronic plans from districts without a union leader's sign-off, Trautwein's letter gives no indication that such plans will receive department approval.

School attorneys and Groveman said they still were analyzing the letter. New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teachers union, also had a copy of the letter.

The dustup over the signature requirement was another example of districts' concern about the implementation of teacher evaluations -- a process many school officials on Long Island and elsewhere contend is being rushed into place.

Under the state's revised law governing teacher evaluations, passed in March, districts must adopt APPR plans and submit them by July 1. The Education Department is required to approve or reject plans by Sept. 1. Districts must have plans in place by Jan. 17 to be eligible for increased state aid.

The issue over signature requirements on district plans heated up after King issued guidelines in May regarding teacher evaluation plans and districts' submission of their plans to the department.

Greg Guercio, an attorney for about 10 Long Island school districts that had planned to challenge the state agency, said those guidelines included a sample online evaluation plan, along with a document to be signed both by school district and local union officials, certifying that they agreed to the plan.

The New York State Association of School Attorneys sent a letter to the Education Department on June 4 expressing concerns about the certifications in the department's Web-based APPR form, which included places for sign-offs by union representatives.

Guercio said school officials had been concerned that districts could be forced to accede to union demands in order to meet the July 1 deadline for submitting plans to the state.

He cited a section of the letter from Trautwein, who wrote that "in an impasse situation, the school district may seek to invoke its right under Education Law . . . to submit a non-electronic form, make its arguments that the submitted APPR is approvable . . . and [the Education Department] will consider the submission."

According to Guercio, "We are interpreting that language as meaning that the commissioner will consider a submitted written plan on its merits."

NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said Friday that some districts and local unions already have reached agreements on teacher evaluation plans, with signed union consent.

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