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Dolman: City teacher's union backs away from evaluations, letting politics win over children

Classrooms across Long Island were empty on Thursday.

Classrooms across Long Island were empty on Thursday. Check our listings of delayed openings, closures and cancellations to see what's in store for Friday. Credit: Daniel Brennan

You’ve probably seen the United Federation of Teachers’ ads on television. Against a background of dark, brooding music, they accuse New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg of “going after teachers again.” Why? Because he has “no strategy to improve schools.” Because it’s “his way or the highway.” Because “it’s time to put politics aside” and come up with a “fair evaluation system” for the city’s 75,000 public school teachers.

Well, at midnight Thursday, politics won a smashing victory over the city, its schools and its students as negotiations on a new teacher evaluation system noisily imploded. But it was UFT gamesmanship that carried the day and the city and its families that lost. 

When the dust finally settled, the New York City Department of Education, run by Bloomberg, and the UFT, run by President Michael Mulgrew, had failed to meet Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s deadline for hammering out an evaluation agreement. Unless something changes, city schools will lose out on $250 million in state education aid and the possibility of snagging $200 million more in state and federal grants.

Never mind that 99 percent of the state’s public school systems did somehow manage to eke out new evaluation plans that everyone could live with. Never mind that close to a half-billion dollars in state and federal money would buy the city a lot of teacher hires, a lot of support staff and a lot of after-school programs. 

It’s not going to happen—barring a miracle. 

The negotiations failed because—at the last minute—the UFT insisted on insertion of a provision that would render inoperable any mechanism to remove ineffective teachers. That’s the city’s side of the story, but it rings true. The original plan said bad teachers would be removed after two years of ineffective ratings. The UFT wanted that provision to sunset one day before teacher removals could legally begin. 

The city sees virtually no way the deadline could be extended and the talks restarted. So for now, the UFT has what it wants—a new teacher evaluation plan that’s resting in limbo. Meanwhile, the city and its children come up nearly a half-billion short. It’s an imbroglio that would be comical if it weren’t so tragic.