SCSD Superintendent: Cuts are devastating

The superintendent of the Syracuse City School District has a grim assessment of the impact on new state funding cuts.

Late Tuesday, State Education Commissioner John King suspended millions of dollars in School Improvement Grant funding for ten districts that receive the federal money. Syracuse is one of the districts impacted to the tune of $11.5 million dollars.

The issue stems from paperwork documenting that the district and teachers unions had reached agreements on new teacher and principal evaluations. The state believes there are shortcomings in those plans that have to be remedied.

"We are extremely disappointed to learn that the New York State Education Department has suspended Syracuse's School Improvement Grant funding," said Syracuse School Superintendent Sharon Contreras in a statement.

"A loss of funding of this magnitude will have a devastating impact on our district, particularly those students and schools with the greatest needs. We believe that our district, in collaboration with the Syracuse Teachers Association and Syracuse Association of Administrators, has made significant progress in developing our evaluation systems for teachers and principals. We are prepared to take all necessary actions to ensure that this funding is restored. First, we intend to immediately appeal the Commissioner's decision. Second, we will continue to engage in close communications with the leadership of our teacher and principal unions, as all three parties are committed to continuing to develop fair and effective evaluation systems that are in compliance with state laws and regulations. Third, we will also continue to work closely with Commissioner King and his staff to reinstitute this funding as quickly as possible."

The districts affected have 30 days to request a hearing to begin the process of reinstating the money.

More on this story from the Associated Press:

The state is suspending millions of dollars in grants to 10 school districts, including New York City, that failed to agree with unions on an evaluation system for teachers and principals.

"The deadline is real; the funding is suspended," state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said.

The deadline for districts to strike deals with their local unions representing teachers and principals was Dec. 31.

The districts where School Improvement Grants are being suspended are Roosevelt on Long Island, Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Rochester, New York City, Greenburgh 11 in Westchester County, Yonkers and Schenectady.

The districts may request hearings to defend their plans, which King found lacking, although he noted six - Roosevelt, Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and Rochester - showed progress.

New York City schools alone stand to lose $60 million.

The grants are an incentive to provide objective measures in evaluating teachers and principals that could eventually be used for promotion, retention, tenure and layoffs. King says the failure could jeopardize those districts' share of federal Race to the Top funds, which include millions of dollars more in grants to encourage improvements in instruction.

The state's largest teachers union calls the decision shocking and bullying by King that will immediately hurt classroom instruction.

"This action will have an immediate negative impact on those students and classrooms that can least afford further disruption," said Richard Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers union.

He said the New York State Education Department and King "have demonstrated that they have totally lost their way in shepherding real, meaningful reform ... NYSED is obviously more interested in being a bully than providing leadership."

No details on how the decision would affect students were provided by the union or the state Education Department.

King said the districts signed commitments with the grant applications promising to revise labor contracts for teachers in grades 4 through 8 and for principals in certain schools. The applications required the personnel to be evaluated as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. Student performance had to be at least 20 percent of the evaluation.

Last week, negotiations between New York City education officials and the United Federation of Teachers fell apart. United Federation of Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew said then that the city Department of Education "refused to bargain in a meaningful way."

City schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said the union was "more interested in setting up procedural roadblocks" to protect underperforming teachers.

The move to more effectively evaluate teachers and principals based on student performance has been a priority for the administration of President Barack Obama and for Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as for former President George W. Bush and his program known as No Child Left Behind.