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Governor Will Withhold Extra School Aid Without Teacher Evaluation System

By Jill Colvin | January 17, 2012 8:10pm
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his second state budget address Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2011.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his second state budget address Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2011.
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MANHATTAN — Gov. Andrew Cuomo threw down the gauntlet Tuesday against state's teachers unions, threatening to withhold school funding unless the city and other locales implement the controversial new teacher evaluation systems by this time next year.

The $132.5 billion budget presented by Cuomo — which includes no new taxes but sets up a fight with the unions over a proposed pension overhaul — boosts local school aid by 4 percent as promised, an increase that would mean $805 million more for schools statewide.

But the money comes with strings attached after the federal government warned New York State it risks losing $700 million in Race to the Top funds because local districts had failed to start evaluation systems.

Cuomo gave the state Education Department and employee unions just 30 days to agree to a “real evaluation system" — or he said he'd create one through a budget amendment.

Schools will then have one year to implement the new system. If a district fails to meet that goal, it may lose the extra 4 percent aid in the coming school years, he said.

“The end date is January 17 [2013],” Cuomo said to applause. “The equation is simple at the end of the day. No evaluation, no money. Period.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg applauded Cuomo's tough stance, which comes a week after hizzoner threatened to begin evaluating teachers at some struggling schools — with or without the union’s blessing.

“The governor has made it clear that he is determined to be a champion for our students — and that he will not allow the teachers’ union to drag its feet any longer on implementing new teacher evaluation systems across the state,” Bloomberg said after Cuomo's budget address in Albany.

A spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

To close the $2 billion budget deficit, the governor said there would be no budget increases at state agencies. He also promised billions in new revenue from a variety of efforts,  including his push to legalize gambling, build a new mega-convention center at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens and redevelop the area near the Javits Center, which he hopes to raze.

He also proposed a fresh pension tier for new public sector employees, which he said would crack down on workers who hoard overtime in their final months on the job in a ploy to boost pension payouts. The new pension level would cost the city and state half as much as its other tiers.

Bloomberg estimated the governor’s push for pension reform and mandate relief could save the city “billions” in the long-run.

“This is posing dramatic change to the system,” said Cuomo, who at times appeared to be pleading with those watching for support. “We don’t really have a choice anyway.”

Cuomo also vowed to do more to streamline state agencies and eliminate “hundreds” of “redundant” programs to save costs.

“This is the most clean and concise budget I’ve worked on in terms of the fundamentals,” said Budget Director Robert Medgna, who said that 80 percent of the budget had already been set by January 1.

“This budget closes the remaining deficit with no gimmicks, no tricks … and no new taxes,” Medgna said.