Fallsburg district likely to miss state deadline -- and a big chunk of state aid

With a midnight deadline just hours away, four New York State school districts risk losing large chunks of state aid if they fail to submit new state-mandated teacher evaluation plans today. The districts are Fallsburg, Harrison, Pine Plains, and the state's most high-profile school district, New York City.

On Thursday, January 17, the due date for the evaluation plans, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had stern words for the four districts:

Today is the final deadline for the handful of school districts, including New York City, that have failed to get their teacher evaluation systems in place. Please hear me - there will be no extensions or exceptions. Since we established one of the strongest teacher evaluation models in the nation last year, 98% of school districts have successfully implemented them. The remaining districts and their unions have until midnight tonight to do the same or they will forfeit the increase in education aid they have been counting on and both parties will have failed the children they serve.

Seven other districts have submitted plans, but those plans have yet to be approved by the state, putting them at risk of losing funds as well if they are not approved today.

The districts now flirting with aid cuts, including Fallsburg, have been in the throes of intense negotiations with teachers' unions over their teacher evaluation plans. Another local school district, Onteora, got its plan in on Tuesday, narrowly avoiding a blown deadline. Fallsburg stands to lose up to $500,000 in aid if it misses the deadline, the Times Herald-Record reports.

Fallsburg superintendent Ivan Katz told the Watershed Post on Thursday afternoon that the district was unlikely to meet the deadline.

"While anything's possible, I don't know that that's going to happen," he said.

The Fallsburg district had an extra challenge to meet the state deadline: Negotiations over the district's new evaluation plan fell at the same time as the teachers' overall bargaining agreement. Having to negotiate both at once has slowed down the process, Katz said. 

The superintendent said he does not know exactly how much state aid the district will lose, and has been getting conflicting numbers from different sources.

"The state education website indicates something in the area of under $100,000. The folks at state aid tell me to expect a loss of about half a million. I don't know which number it's going to be," he said. "I believe we may not know until we actually get our aid payments."

Katz would not comment on which specific issues were holding up negotiations with the teachers' union. A union spokesman told the Times Herald-Record that the two sides had not agreed on the policy for allowing fired teachers to appeal:

While he would not comment on what's causing the holdup, officials with the Albany-based New York State United Teachers union explained that the two sides are far apart on the appeals process for fired teachers. "The union believes the arbitrator should be a neutral third party, while the superintendent wants to be the judge, jury and executioner," said Carl Korn, a spokesman for NYSUT, which is taking part in the negotiations.