SPLIT DECISION AMONG LOCAL LEGISLATORS ON BUDGET VOTE AND EDUCATION PROPOSALS
From left to right, Assemblyman Lavine voted yes, while Assemblymen Montesano and Ra, voted no. Senators Marcellino and Martins voted yes.
Updated April 5, 2015 (Original Post - April 3) -- This past Tuesday night, the New York State legislators representing the North Shore area split their vote on the Budget deal and education reforms that were worked out in closed-door negotiations between Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader, Republican Dean Skelos, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie last weekend.
Democratic Assemblyman Charles Lavine (13 A.D.), along with his Republican counterparts in the Senate - Carl Marcellino (5 S.D.) and Jack Martins (7 S.D.), followed the lead of their respective chamber leaders, voting “in the affirmative,” while Republican Assemblymen Edward Ra (19 A.D.) and Michael Montesano (15 A.D.) voted “no.”
The most controversial part of the deal was the adoption of the central elements of the Governor’s education agenda that he had outlined in January.
Before the weekend, Governor Cuomo had been insisting that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on their students’ standardized test performance and 35% be based on a single classroom observation by an “outside evaluator.” 15% would be based on a principal’s or other district administrator’s input. Additionally, he pushed for the licensing of 100 more charter schools statewide, and increasing the probationary period for teachers to receive tenure from three years to five years.
By Monday, the triumvirate announced that they had negotiated a deal in which the teacher evaluation proposals would be taken up by the State Department of Education, ostensibly ceding authority for making the politically charged decision to an agency that was responsible for the Common Core roll-out mid-way through the 2012-13 school year. Overseeing that department is the Board of Regents, led by Chancellor Meryl Tisch who has been a strong supporter of standardized testing and the Common Core learning standards.
With regard to the tenure proposal, the three leaders split the difference by requiring a four year probationary period. Expanding the number of charter schools was not a part of the deal.
Despite statements from legislators that "the educational professionals" at State Ed would be in charge of the evaluations, the legislature did agree to much of what the Governor had asked for, with the law outlining fairly specific parameters, consistent with his proposals, guiding State Ed in the development of the new rating system. Teachers’ evaluations will continue to be based on student test scores with more stringent requirements for demonstrating “student growth” from one year to the next. Additionally, an outside “independent” evaluator’s classroom observation will now count towards the teacher’s rating. It is up to State Ed to determine what percentages those factors, as well as district measures, will count toward the overall evaluation score. Just as with the common core assessments for students, State Ed will determine cut off scores for one of four ratings – highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective. Teachers receiving an ineffective in either the testing portion or observation portion, even if the other portion is highly effective, will automatically receive a score of ineffective or developing.
It is unclear whether the cut off scores will be determined in advance, or after the evaluations are completed thus enabling the state to meet a pre-determined assumption of what percentage of teachers should fall into each of the four categories, as is done with the Common Core assessments.
If a teacher receives two consecutive ineffective ratings, the district can choose whether or not to begin 30-20a termination proceedings. For teachers receiving three straight years of such ratings, the district must move towards terminating the teacher.
Districts that do not agree to the new regulations will lose a portion of their increase in state aid. It is unclear how much that would be for the North Shore School District.
During the Assembly debate Tuesday night, it was sort of a puzzling scene as Democrat after Democrat spoke against the education measures, saying that they were harmful to public education and students, only in the end to conclude their statements with “I vote in the affirmative.”
A few said that they were "punting" the decision to the State Education Department; and others said that while they believed the reforms detrimental, districts would see greater increases in state aid, although, again, it was unclear how much greater, by agreeing to the new regulations. Only four Democrats ultimately voted against the education bill, which passed by a 92-54 majority.
In the Senate it was the opposite story, with all of that chamber's Republicans supporting the education measures, and nearly all Democrats opposing them. The split was 36 votes for and 26 against.
Speaking before his colleagues, Assemblyman Lavine (D- Glen Cove), before casting his “yes” vote, said, “I regret that we have not been able to move away from the APPR and the gratuitous testing, but I think that if anything good has come from this discussion this evening is that both Democrats and Republicans view with tremendous cynicism the testing regimen and that’s a good start and we have to continue with that dedication.”
A week prior to the vote, the Assemblyman said to Northwordnews, “We have already done enough damage to public education as a result of gratuitous and needless testing, and it is time to move forward. There is absolutely no need to increase the numbers of charter schools. New York needs to restore full funding for public education. Instead of imposing artificial and bogus testing standards on Long Island’s schools, it is time for our teaching methods to be adopted and emulated by the states that do not share our community’s commitment to excellence in education.”
Assemblyman Edward Ra (R- Franklin Square) explained his “no” vote to Northwordnews on Thursday. “I do not support the Governor's education agenda nor do I support his evaluation system which is heavily reliant on standardized test scores,” he said. “I find the independent evaluator portion equally disturbing because there is no requirement that this person have any education background or any familiarity with the school district in which he or she will be evaluating teachers and this has the potential to be another unfunded mandate. I do not support the Governor's proposal to increase Charter schools as our Long Island school districts are very successful and high performing.”
Commenting on the letter writing campaign initiated by the North Shore Legislative Action Committee, Mr. Ra said, “I appreciate the communication from the North Shore School Board and Legislative Committee as well as other parent and student groups and certainly value greatly their input on education matters.”
Senator Marcellino’s office, in response to questions from Northwordnews, said that the District would be receiving a 10.9% increase in aid compared to last year (about $430,000). Mr. Marcellino in a facebook page post said, “This agreed-upon compromise is far better than the plan originally advanced by Governor Cuomo. We listened to the issues raised by teachers, administrators, parents and others, and made key changes to what was being proposed - - just like we said we would do throughout this entire process. In short, we kept our word. . . . We put the issue into the hands of the State Education Department (SED) to ensure teacher evaluation criteria are developed by education professionals with extensive input from all stakeholders, not unilaterally by politicians.” In the past the Senator has expressed support for the Common Core learning standards, but has been critical of the way in which the State Education Department hurriedly rolled them out in 2013.
In a recent Quinnipiac University Poll, two-thirds of New Yorkers said that they believed teacher tenure should not be linked to test scores, and so it was little surprise that the budget deal and the education provisions caused a bit of an uproar on social media throughout the state the next day.
Perhaps reacting to the angry response, Chancellor Tisch in an interview on Wednesday with Capital, an online news source covering state government, said that she was open to the idea of exempting high performing districts from the new evaluation requirements. “So much of what we talk about is driven by the lowest performing schools, which need to continue to be our very deep focus,” Tisch was quoted as saying. “But what if we started to include in this approach of evaluation our respect for the districts who, for decades, have really done great work? And when I say great work, I mean setting up a rubric by which districts can show that they are worthy of a certain amount of autonomy.”
According to Capital, she said that she regrets that she did not share the idea with the governor before the vote. Although she did not mention that particular proposal to Mr. Cuomo, it was her recommendations to the Governor that she made early last year, on which most of Mr. Cuomo’s education agenda was based, Capital reported.
It was during that time that Chancellor Tisch had participated in public forums along with former Commissioner John King, at which educators and parents were outspoken in their criticism of the testing regimen and the hurried implementation of the Common Core. Some of those forums were cancelled as a result of the backlash.
This past March, two of Chancellor Tisch’s colleagues on the Board of Regents, both of whom who had been strong advocates of testing and the common core, were not reinstated at the end of their terms by the legislature and were replaced with individuals with strong public education backgrounds.
Asked by Northwordnews what the North Shore School District stood to lose in terms of State aid if it did adhere to the new regulations, Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick said he was uncertain at this time how much of the $4,417,555 in total aid the District would lose. As for the new regulations themselves, “I am not opposed to the probationary period being extended for tenure,” he said. “I am however opposed to the increase in State control over teacher evaluations. I am hoping, that as stated by Meryl Tisch, there will be some opportunity for high performing districts to opt out of some of the provisions of the approved reforms, primarily the outside evaluator piece as well as having 50% based upon test scores.”
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