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Education dollars at stake

Flushing High School is one of nine persistently low-achieving Queens schools that received federal School Improvement Grant funds this year.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Stalled negotiations between the city Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers over a teacher-evaluation system could contribute to Queens schools losing their share of hundreds of millions of federal education dollars.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said New York state had made significant progress during its first year under the Race to the Top program but that a recent roadblock could threaten key reform initiatives.

“Backtracking on reform commitments could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars for improving New York schools,” he said in a statement.

The state was awarded nearly $7 million through the program, about $1.5 million of which has been allocated through the first year. In its year-end report, the U.S. DOE cited setbacks on the local and state levels involving development of a system for evaluating teachers and principals.

The announcement comes on the heels of a decision by state Education Commissioner John King Jr. earlier this month to suspend payment of federal School Improvement Grant dollars to the city’s — as well as nine other school districts’ — lowest-performing schools following a Dec. 31 deadline the state set for the city and its union to reach an agreement.

Under the SIG program, the city allocated more than $14.5 million to nine borough high schools this year — Newtown, Grover Cleveland, Queens Vocational-Technical, Flushing, August Martin, Richmond Hill, John Adams, William Cullen Bryant and Long Island City — which they have been using for a variety of strategies, including hiring new teachers, adding extended time to the school day, making capital upgrades and working with outside organizations to implement either a transformation or restart strategy.

“The deadline is real, the funding is suspended,” he said, though the city told the schools to continue with their programs.

The main sticking point between the DOE and UFT seems to be what happens to teachers who are rated ineffective. The union wants a mutually agreed-upon, third-party arbitrator to review those teachers’ appeals, while the DOE wants to stick with the current appeals process, by which the department has the last word on appeals.

In the meantime, King has given the suspended districts 30 days to request a hearing on his decision.

DOE spokesman Frank Thomas said he believes the state will reimburse the city for money spent through Dec. 31 but he would not speculate at this time as to how the city would pay for the remaining expenses should the state permanently withhold those funds.

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said this experience “has left me less than optimistic” about developing a citywide teacher evaluation system, which is required to receive funds under the Race to the Top initiative.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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