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State lawmakers: Teacher evaluation plan could be postponed

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on Feb. 10, 2014, in Albany. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators are considering creation of a commission to develop a teacher-evaluation process in a move that could postpone a decision on what had become one of the most contentious issues of the state budget, officials said Tuesday.

"We're just about there with him," Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said of talks with Cuomo. Sticking points concern appointments to the panel and "what their charge will be," Skelos said.

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said on Twitter: "There are a number of proposals floating around -- none of them have been agreed to."

As lawmakers moved to the final week of budget negotiations, controversial topics continued to fall off the table.

Cuomo, Skelos and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said proposals to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York from 16 to 18, earmark a $6 billion windfall for infrastructure projects, and appoint an independent monitor to review grand jury decisions involving police violence likely would be tabled until after the budget deadline, April 1.

The issues could be addressed in the second half of the legislative session, lawmakers said.

Also, a controversial proposal to force state lawmakers who earn outside income as attorneys to disclose all of their law firm's clients may be altered so that the names would be reported to a state regulator but not posted on the Internet, sources said.

On Monday, lawmakers shelved initiatives to increase charter schools, create an education tax credit favored by private schools, and enact the "Dream Act," which would have allowed children of undocumented immigrants to apply for state college aid.

Ethics and education remain the major outstanding issues.

Tuesday, legislative leaders and Cuomo were working on a compromise on one of Cuomo's most debated proposals: basing 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation on student scores on standardized tests, instead of the current 20 percent.

Cuomo, a Democrat, has said the current system is flawed because it rates 98 percent of teachers as effective.

The commission under discussion would have six members -- two appointed by the governor and two each by the Senate and Assembly -- and would have to report recommendations to the legislature in June, officials said.

Skelos said a remaining question is "Would we have to vote on it, or would we just have to implement what they recommend?"

Many rank-and-file legislators say they oppose Cuomo's 50 percent proposal.

"We want to knock that number down," said Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset). "We think it's too high."

Cuomo on Tuesday took the unusual step of walking up from his second floor office at the State Capitol to meet privately with the Senate Republican conference behind closed doors to talk about his ethics proposals.

The meeting was cordial and mostly upbeat, with participants focused on reaching an agreement before the budget deadline, senators said.

"I had a good conversation with the senators," Cuomo said. He said client confidentiality was a "sensitive" issue, but he was "hopeful we can make progress" on a disclosure deal.

Cuomo said his proposal to change the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 was proving "too complicated" to solve in the dwindling time frame.Heastie said he agreed that criminal justice issues, including making changes to grand jury processes, would have to wait until after the budget.

"So to do that in the budget I don't think would work politically," Cuomo said, adding "Remember, this is only the budget, the session ends in June."


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