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School chief: Slipup hurt teacher evaluation plan

The schools chief in the only Long Island district failing to win state approval of its teacher evaluation plan said Friday that the slipup may have been caused by his hitting the wrong computer button.

Richard C. Malone, interim superintendent of the tiny Oysterponds district, said in a phone interview that, near midnight Thursday, he tried to transmit computerized charts accompanying his district's evaluation plan to state Education Department staffers in Albany. Midnight was the state's deadline for obtaining approval.

"I obviously pushed the wrong button and the charts didn't go through," said Malone, who added that he had spent more than six hours earlier in the day checking with Education Department lawyers on details of his district's plan.

In Albany, state education officials confirmed that Oysterponds had fallen short -- along with five other school systems including New York City, by far the state's largest. A total of 685 local districts statewide gained approval, including 123 on the Island.

Under a state law passed in February, all districts were supposed to have Albany-approved plans in place for rating teachers' job performance this year. Districts failing to obtain state approval are to lose state financial aid, which in New York City's case is expected to total at least $340 million.

The financial situation is murkier in Oysterponds, which serves 71 students. Because of its substantial property wealth, the district receives only $305,300 in state aid, less than 6 percent of its $5.35 million budget.

Malone said he still was checking to see if his district would lose money. The superintendent added that local residents will get a fuller explanation at the school board's meeting on Feb. 12.

Even without Albany's approval, Malone said the district will evaluate teachers in accordance with state guidelines, using both student test scores and classroom observations.

In New York City, last-minute negotiations between education and union officials over an evaluation plan broke down Thursday. On Friday, state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. sent a letter to schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, warning that the city's system could lose further money if it failed to meet all state requirements for teacher evaluations.

One sticking point in the city's negotiations revolved around a push by teacher-union leaders to have the evaluation plan expire in June 2015. The union contended that would allow any kinks in the plan to be worked out in future negotiations.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg countered that such a time limit could thwart any efforts to fire teachers, because they must be rated ineffective two years running before losing their jobs.

Many district evaluation plans elsewhere in the state, including Long Island, have similar time limits. State officials and school attorneys have concluded such plans could remain in effect indefinitely as they are renegotiated, especially if they are included in teacher contracts.

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