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State OKs Cuomo teacher evaluation plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, speaks at a news

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, speaks at a news conference with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, left, at the Capitol in Albany. (June 21, 2012) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- The state Legislature voted Thursday to limit access to teacher evaluations to parents only, backing the position of state teachers unions after months of highly charged debate.

The bill -- championed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- would ensure that evaluations would be released only to the parents and guardians of students. The state would post evaluation information online, but redact teachers' names to shield them from public view. However, it carries no penalties for parents who disseminate the information on their own.

Unions and supportive lawmakers said the measure "strikes a balance" between parents' right to know and teachers' right to privacy.

"This is a tremendous victory for the union," said Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, "because it impacts every one of our members [kindergarten] through [grade] 12 and we believe it sets a framework for controlling access to [employment information] for all public employees."

The rush to act stemmed from a court decision earlier this year that determined New York City teachers' ratings should be publicly available.

The legislature approved the measure as one of the last acts of the 2012 session and after a bit of political ballet marking the final week.

Cuomo proposed the bill at midnight Monday after indicating he wouldn't. He almost immediately said there was no urgency to the issue because most districts wouldn't have evaluations available for two years.

Republicans who control the State Senate initially agreed there was no rush. But they emerged from a closed-door meeting Thursday saying they would pass it. A few hours later, in a matter of minutes and with virtually no debate, the Senate approved it, 58-1.

The Democrat-led Assembly, which has long backed the unions on the issue, passed it 118-17 after a tart debate that featured supporters bashing the bill.

"We are acting before standards are in place, but we're going to put in a system for judging [teachers]," said Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue). "We really need to slow down and judge this more carefully."

Despite that, he voted for the bill. Like many others, he said he "didn't like the other option" of teachers' evaluations being available to everyone.

"The intent of this is to control what can be released," said Assemb. Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern), who sponsored the bill. She said she wanted to avoid the "media exploitation" that occurred earlier this year when news outlets published teacher ratings after the court decision.Though small in number, opponents were vocal in their outrage. Some wanted full public disclosure, including Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James).

Some thought the evaluation system was flawed. "This won't produce data that is worth knowing," Assemb. Joel Miller (R-Poughkeepsie) said.

And some thought their colleagues were rushing to attend an end-of-session reception at the Executive Mansion.

"We need to do it by 5 o'clock because we need to go to a party at the governor's mansion," Assemb. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) said sarcastically.

Union leaders said it was "perhaps" their biggest victory since Cuomo took office.

"The governor and legislature did the right thing by stopping the media from distorting and disseminating evaluation results," Iannuzzi said.

The Democratic governor has spent much of the past 18 months fighting teachers' unions, cutting education spending, reducing public-employee pensions and implementing the new teacher-evaluation system.

"The teachers' unions made important points and the bill respects their members' legitimate right to privacy," Cuomo said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), whose support was key to passage, echoed nearly all the supporters who called it a balanced approach.

"By giving parents more information about what is taking place inside their child's classroom, we can enhance school accountability and better ensure students get the first-class education they deserve," Skelos said.

With Ted Phillips

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