Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says that if New York City and the United Federation of Teachers don't wind down their extreme warfare soon and hammer out a deal on a teacher evaluation plan, the state will impose one.
The good news: Cuomo's ultimatum gives the city a chance to salvage about $237 million in state school aid that's at risk in the standoff.
The bad news: More than $250 million in school grants that the city has already lost because of its noisy impasse with the UFT will stay lost.
The worst potential news: The UFT and the city end up signing off -- under duress -- on a toothless compromise that sells short the interests of the city's 1.1 million pupils but saves face for Cuomo's plan. Or this: The UFT refuses to bargain with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at all in hopes of dealing with a more pliant mayor in 2014.
Bloomberg must stand his ground. The nation's largest public school system -- with 75,000 teachers -- deserves an evaluation system that's firm, fair and binding. What the city does not need is an evaluation system that expires before teachers rated as ineffective can be dismissed. Bloomberg correctly calls that scenario a "fraud." But it happens to be what the UFT wants.
Bloomberg's critics point out that hundreds of other school districts in the state have agreed to the sunset provision. It's nothing but a technicality, they say. If the evaluations work as conceived, most districts will certainly renew the process when the time comes. So why is the city skeptical?
For several reasons: On Long Island, local boards run the schools, vocal parents generate strong pressure for academic excellence, and the topic of teacher evaluations doesn't usually explode into a hard-eyed and insanely expensive slugfest.
But the city is different. Its unions are stronger, its parents are quieter and many have fewer resources, and most of its politicians are vulnerable to union wrath.
Bloomberg is holding out for a vision of the schools that fulfills at least part of his promise to build a system that works. Cuomo and the State Legislature should help him any way they can.