The clock is ticking for New York City and the union representing 75,000 public school teachers to agree on a system of evaluations or risk losing $450 million in state aid and grants.
With a Thursday deadline looming, negotiations on the evaluation plan resumed last week for the first time since mid-December. A war of words on the issue erupted this month in the city, whose 1.1 million-pupil public school system is the nation's largest.
"You know me, I'm always optimistic," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday on his radio program. "I always think things are going to work out."
The United Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, told members in a letter Friday that if no agreement is reached, "it will be because the mayor cannot be brought to accept our position of what a teacher evaluation system needs to be, and he will once again try to blame teachers."
The struggle over how to evaluate teachers has been contentious around the nation, even sparking a seven-day strike in Chicago last fall.
After the UFT released a TV ad criticizing Bloomberg as taking a "his way or the highway" approach to running schools, Bloomberg compared the union to the National Rifle Association. He said most UFT members "are not in sympathy" with union leaders and said, "The NRA's another place where the membership, if you do the polling, doesn't agree with the leadership."
Each of New York State's nearly 700 school districts was told to submit a teacher evaluation plan by Thursday. Teachers are to be rated highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, and teachers rated ineffective two years in a row risk losing their jobs.
If New York City misses the deadline, it stands to lose $250 million in state funding plus $200 million in grants that are conditional on having an evaluation plan in place.
That's a small percentage of the city Department of Education's $19.7 billion operating budget, but the loss would be felt.
"It will have an impact," said Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union. "For their own sakes they have to come together and come up with an evaluation system."
Under state law, 20 percent of the ratings must be based on students' growth on state tests. Another 20 percent must be based on local measures and the remaining 60 percent must include classroom observations and can also include parent or student surveys.
That leaves a lot to be decided by local school districts.