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Islip teachers seek voice in evaluations

Teachers in the Islip school district are challenging what administrators say is the superintendent's historic right to evaluate faculty members.

The teachers' union says it is willing to give up raises to have a voice in the appeals of negative evaluations. But that offer has been rejected by Islip school officials who say the superintendent should have final authority.

"The final appeal of one who is not satisfied with the evaluation should rest with the superintendent as the superintendent recommends staff for hiring and tenure and has done so since the invention of tenure," the district said in a statement.

The debate arose after the state crafted a new Annual Professional Performance Review statute, to take effect later this year in an effort to qualify for federal Race to the Top public school funding that requires more rigorous teacher evaluations. In a wrinkle of the new system, a teacher's right to appeal the substance of evaluations will be part of collective bargaining, which some critics say ties policy issues with monetary ones for the first time.

"From the beginning there was a concern that districts would be pushed in the direction of making trade-offs between monetary issues and management and policy prerogatives," said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the state's Council of School Superintendents.

The Islip teachers' association wants a panel that includes teachers to review faculty rated "ineffective" and "developing." Those teachers would receive a mandatory improvement plan.

"It is entirely reasonable to have a committee review any decision to remove a teacher rated ineffective instead of giving one person the sole power over a teacher's career," said Gary Fernando, union president.

Currently in Islip, as in many districts statewide, final hiring and retention authority belongs to the superintendent. Now, if teachers receive a negative review, they can grieve procedural contract violations but not the substance.

Union leaders in Islip said, to gain a seat on the review panel, they are willing to give up $700,000 in pay increases this year and other incentives that would save the district $2 million over three years.

"My firm represents 55 school districts and is involved in nine faculty negotiations and no other union has attempted to hold the district hostage to a money proposal," said John Gross, the Islip district's attorney. " . . . Once the authority to evaluate is given away, it is never coming back."

The district wants to settle money issues now and deal with evaluations later. Fernando said he expects negotiations to continue.

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