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Bloomberg blast teacher evals as 'sham,' 'fraud'

Michael Gormley, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday blasted new teacher evaluation systems statewide that stem from a law approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature as "shams" and "a fraud on the public."

Bloomberg said most school districts outside New York City adopted faulty local evaluations to extract school aid, not improve teachers. He said the evaluations fail students and protect bad teachers during his testimony at a daylong state budget hearing in which upstate mayors pushed for ways to save some of America's iconic cities from insolvency.

Teacher evaluations weren't the only politically thorny topic, either.

State Democratic Party co-chairwoman and Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner continued questioning Cuomo's pension proposal in a rare public debate of a plan offered by the powerful and popular Democratic governor.

"What may be enticing in the short term ... (could) shackle our future," Miner told legislators.

Cuomo proposes to reduce cities' ballooning costs of public pensions by allowing local governments to pay lower employer contributions now. He assumes a less expensive pension system adopted a year ago will reduce government costs 10 or 20 years from now. Critics say it appears to again defer a problem, and Miner says it depends on risky assumptions about future pension costs and stock market performance.

She said the "day of reckoning" would begin when government pension payments would start climbing in five years. She denied any rift with Cuomo, saying media reports attempted to make the issue "personal."

Miner's comments drew support from both sides of the aisle, with Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco, an Onondaga County Republican, and Manhattan Democrat Sen. Liz Krueger voicing their agreement.

Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards and Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, however supported Cuomo's proposal as a useful tool for the short-term, but said long-term fixes are needed. Richards said upstate cities can't survive on a 200-year-old funding system that depends on property taxes and the state should instead consider giving upstate cities more funding from the state income tax.

While upstate cities face crisis from declining populations, lost commercial taxes and high public worker compensation and pensions, New York City is humming. But Bloomberg said the city schools need their full state aid share to combat poverty, overcrowding and other problems in teaching a diverse population of 1 million students.

More than $250 million in state school aid, however, has been lost because Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers union failed to agree on a local teacher evaluation system by the Jan. 17 deadline in the state law.

Bloomberg is asking the Legislature to provide the aid, adding to Cuomo's budget proposal, despite missing the deadline to agree on evaluations. He said other schools saved their aid by enacting ineffective deals with teachers.

"It's just a sham on the public that they have a deal ... when in fact they have done nothing," Bloomberg said. He said the state Education Department accepted plans statewide that "they knew were total frauds."

"Sometimes you have to stand on principle," Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg and UFT President Mike Mulgrew couldn't even agree on what the sticking points were or whether talks continue, which could avoid loss of more state aid.

"It's embarrassing for the mayor of New York to go to Albany to testify at a budget hearing and not know what he's talking about," Mulgrew said in an interview.

In a sometimes heated testimony over three hours, the mayor told legislators that it was irresponsible for them and Cuomo to pass the 2010 law because he said it ties school aid to union approval of local teacher evaluations. He said unions have no incentive to approve effective evaluations.

Cuomo, however, has declared his teacher evaluation system a major success. Ninety-nine percent of the state's 700 school districts met the deadline for putting teacher and principal evaluations in place. The evaluations were part of a package of education reforms included in the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" competition among states. New York schools were awarded $700 million.

Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Catherine Nolan, a Queens Democrat, noted Bloomberg had supported the 2010 law and is now responsible for a "debacle" for New York City students.

"Forty percent of students are going to be punished because the adults can't work things out," Nolan said.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. and Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said they are confident Bloomberg and UFT will eventually come to agreement to save next year's funding.