School districts on Long Island and statewide still could face a daunting task in revising their teacher evaluation plans in time to meet state deadlines, despite the Regents chancellor's strong call for extending the ultimate date to Sept. 1, 2016.
Merryl Tisch, who heads the state panel that sets education policy, announced Wednesday night that she is pushing to give districts the extra time if they have difficulties meeting a Nov. 15 deadline set in state law.
The November date was agreed upon in the budget deal reached by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators, which passed earlier this month. That is when districts are supposed to have in place evaluation procedures, or Annual Professional Performance Review plans, that are approved by the state Education Department or risk losing some state financial aid.
However, Ken Wagner, the state's senior deputy education commissioner, informed local school superintendents in his own memo, dispatched just hours before Tisch's announcement, that districts' initial schedule for complying with state law remains firm.
Wagner wrote that districts "must" submit revised APPR plans to the department by Sept. 1 of this year, so the department can review and approve those plans by Nov. 15.
The differing deadline dates caused "a lot of consternation" Thursday among school administrators statewide, said Bob Lowry, deputy director of The New York State Council of School Superintendents.
The Education Department's chief spokesman, Dennis Tompkins, asked if the Sept. 1 deadline remains in effect, said his agency is sticking by Tisch's statement from Wednesday that "there should be flexibility in the deadline for districts facing hardships meeting it."
Many local school superintendents contend that virtually all of the approximately 700 districts statewide would face extreme difficulty in meeting the September goal, especially because the Education Department is not required to issue its own regulations regarding the evaluations until June 30. Districts need those regulations in order to work on their own plans.
What that means, in effect, is that districts would have to negotiate revised evaluation plans during the summer with union leaders, who would have to be called in from vacations, presumably in return for extra pay.
Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools, said she respects Wagner but found his memo "outrageous."
Lewis, who co-chairs a state-level curriculum committee for the state council of school superintendents, said she especially objects to the suggestion that superintendents would have only about two months -- after June 30 -- to cobble together new evaluation plans, while the Education Department would have 21/2 months to review and approve those plans by Nov. 15.
She said the state's hurried schedule puts local administrators in the position of having to guess whether a request for a deadline extension might be rejected -- with the potential loss of state dollars for their districts.
"We have fiduciary responsibilities to our taxpayers," Lewis said. "And we take it very seriously. This is huge."
Lowry praised Tisch's call for extended time.
"Yes, we support pushing back the Sept. 1 deadline -- that's real simple," Lowry said. "We want to see where the chancellor's efforts lead, but we're happy that she's taken this step."
The revised evaluation law expands the state's authority in setting standards for teacher ratings.
A governor's counsel, Alphonso David, has stated that deadline extensions should be the exception rather than the rule, though he acknowledged the Education Department's authority to grant hardship exemptions.