The newly mandated teacher and principal evaluation system is costing Long Island school districts tens of thousands of dollars per year in training, testing and materials, even as they struggle with effects of the property-tax cap and putting in place other required education reforms.
The expense varies by district depending on its size and how it plans to satisfy the state's demands. The Valley Stream 24 district, for instance, estimates it will spend $170,000 this school year, while Remsenburg-Speonk will part with about $25,000. Middle Country has spent $188,599 as of earlier in the fall, and Jericho has doled out $284,996 so far, according to a Newsday survey of 10 school systems of diverse size.
Local districts have received little government aid -- in some cases, just a few thousand dollars spread over four years. And other costly reforms unrelated to teacher evaluations, such as implementing the Common Core curriculum, are on the way.
Middle Country Superintendent Roberta Gerold said she's taken money from the district's textbook and teacher fund -- reserved for hiring of additional staff, if needed -- to create the evaluation system.
Meanwhile, her high school's Advanced Placement classes have swelled to 31 or 32 students in some cases, and she can't afford to hire more educators despite students' complaints, she said.
The district will spend at least $300,000 on the evaluation program by the end of the school year, she said.
"Is it fair?" Gerold said of Middle Country bearing the expense. "No."
Districts vie for federal dollars
The drive for new evaluations is part of a national movement spurred by the federal Race to the Top education initiative, which requires states to tie teacher ratings to student performance to get the money. New York won about $700 million.
The State Department of Education is using some of the money to pay the staff it needs to review districts' draft evaluation plans, which must have state approval. Otherwise, the department is apportioning money to individual districts and awarding competitive grants, either for turnaround of low-performing districts, innovation through a "whole-school" approach to curriculum and programs, or high achievement.
Districts across the state have long decried the price tag of the evaluation process, which comes as they are grappling with financial decisions driven by the second year of the state-imposed property-tax cap.
However, state Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said the evaluation system will lead to higher-quality education for students. New York has $58.6 million in grants funded by Race to the Top and available for districts that build solid plans; nearly 50, including 10 on Long Island, will receive additional money as a result, he said.
"The research on effective education is unequivocal," Dunn said. "The best way to close the achievement gap is to have highly effective teachers in classrooms and highly effective instructional leaders running the buildings. Training principals and teachers around effective observation and feedback on instruction is not an 'added' expense. It is a core responsibility of districts."
Allan R. Odden, professor emeritus in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the evaluation protocol provides "solid information" on teacher effectiveness.
"Given the challenges of college- and career-ready standards, teachers and principals need to be managed more strategically," he said.
'An extraordinary cost burden'
"From the onset, we were receiving complaints from school board members of what was becoming an extraordinary cost burden for implementation," she said, adding that the state should help out or back off. "Either they ante up, or . . . look for a way to relieve local schools from footing the bulk of the bill."
Mattituck-Cutchogue will spend about $34,500 on the new system in its first year, and the Baldwin district already has spent about $435,000 to prepare and launch the program, officials said. Sachem plans to spend $270,000 to $290,000 on evaluations this school year, with at least $140,000 in recurring annual costs, officials said.
Much of the bill comes from training -- not just for workshops, but for the substitute teachers who fill in while that training is being done. The purchase and scoring of required tests for students adds to the checklist, which also can include software, computers and other materials.
"It's been a fairly massive undertaking," Baldwin Superintendent James Mapes said, adding that the new system won't be as good as the district's own evaluations, which were more frequent and included peer review.
Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, said local districts shouldn't be asked to "raid" their coffers to pay for creating evaluation programs, and the state should redirect to them more Race to the Top funding.
Gerold is tallying up not only her costs but those of other districts, and plans to send her findings to lawmakers and state officials to show what she said is being lost in real dollars. Her district anticipates at least $200,000 in recurring costs.
"Additionally, dozens of hours and thousands of dollars have been spent negotiating the . . . [evaluation plans] with local bargaining groups; many are still not settled," said Alan Groveman, superintendent of Connetquot schools, which will spend about $42,000 on the program this school year.
Rockville Centre will spend $80,000 to $100,000 in its first year, with $70,000 in recurring costs, Superintendent William Johnson said. That doesn't include compensation for added personnel.
"I might bring in outside people to help us out," he said. "We don't have the administrative staff to do this."
He said the system is unnecessary. "We know how to evaluate teachers."
But Odden, of the University of Wisconsin, said the system will bring needed change. Only effective teachers should be tenured, he said, and promotion and dismissal should be driven by an individual's effectiveness.
"Every district should jump at the opportunity, even if they have to engage in some modest resource reallocation," he said.
"I think this movement toward schools focusing on outcomes is a good idea, but I think we've gone too far with it," she said.
"Having districts that have fewer than 1,500 kids cost more per kid," Stiefel said. "There are many districts out there that are that small."