On Board Online • October 26, 2015

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

At the 19th Annual Pre-Convention School Law Seminar, state officials had advice for school district officials that are seeking waivers to keep using existing teacher evaluation plans rather than new ones called for by law. The basic message: Don’t make the process more complicated than it actually is.

“It’s a very streamlined process,” Deputy Education Commissioner Charles Szuberla told moderator Kathy A. Ahearn, a partner with Guercio & Guercio, during a conversation-style presentation. “Don’t read more into the directions than they say,” he said.

As of Oct. 22, the State Education Department had approved 229 waivers. Those districts will be able to continue to evaluate teachers and principals under Education Law section 3020-c.

Another 44 waiver requests were awaiting additional documentation requested by the department before approval, and 83 requests were under review by the department staff.

Meanwhile, as of Oct. 20, 77 districts had submitted Annual Professional Performance Review Plans under the new Education Law section 3020-d, which is consistent with the Educational Transformation Act that was part of the state budget. Of those, 20 plans have been approved, and the rest are under review.

All school districts must either have approved 3020-d plans or waivers to continue using a current 3020-c plan if a new one is not negotiated and approved by Nov. 15. Waiver applications are due by Oct. 30, and without an approved plan or waiver in place by the deadline, districts will lose their state aid increase.

The effective date for all waivers, regardless of when in October they are submitted and when they are approved by SED, is Nov. 15.

Szuberla and State Education Department Counsel and Deputy Commissioner Richard Trautwein cited several parts of the waiver application that they say do not require extensive effort to satisfy:

  • The training requirement. “I don’t need to see the materials,” Szuberla said. “I simply need to know what the plan is for the training: ‘Here are the dates’ and ‘We’ve got this lined up.'”
  • Evidence of good-faith bargaining. “We are not the Public Employment Relations Board,” Trautwein said, referring to a body that examines large case files to settle disputes on whether labor negotiations were consistent with the law. “What we’re looking for, really, is a demonstration of effort that negotiations have been tried – records of dates on which meetings were held . a showing that you have tried.”

Meanwhile, the department is pressing testing companies and expediting its own review of exams to make more assessments available for districts to use as approved supplemental assessments or for measuring progress on student learning objectives (SLOs).

“We had to kind-of lean on the testing companies. They all seemed to want to wait until the last second,” Szuberla said in an interview immediately after speaking at the law seminar. In fact, he said, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia personally made phone calls to chief executives of testing companies to urge them to complete and submit assessments to make them available for review by districts and by SED.

“We got an immediate response,” he said.

Early last week, SED had approved 211 assessments for use with SLOs and three supplemental assessments with corresponding growth models, a department spokeswoman said.