Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Strange Bedfellows – How the Commissioner’s Edict on “Quiet Agreements” Aligned Teachers’ Unions and School Districts

Source:  NYMUNIBLOG - - Published by Harris Beach PLLC as a public service. Reproduced with permission. Copyright ©2013 -  All rights reserved.

"The New York State Education Department has managed to create quite a hullabaloo with its April 26, 2013* memo to school district and BOCES superintendents declaring void all “quiet agreements” between districts and their teachers’ unions that mitigate the use of this year’s student assessments in teachers’ APPR growth scores, particularly when the resulting teacher rating is “ineffective.”  At the heart of the matter are the new Common Core student assessments that began this year, which in turn reflect on teachers’ APPR scores and performance ratings.  The Common Core Standards, which have the laudable goal of making our children better prepared for college and careers, concomitantly dramatically increases the rigor of student assessments.  Teachers unions and school districts expect that student assessment scores based on the new Common Core Standards will be significantly lower, at least for the first couple of years.  That has led to some districts and unions to negotiate what the Commissioner of Education calls “quiet agreements” outside the APPR plans they jointly submitted to SED. The agreements set forth how the student assessments will be mitigated as a factor in a teacher’s APPR rating for the first year of the new APPR implementation. In one such “quiet agreement” entered into between the Buffalo City School District and its teachers union on January 15, 2013, the District promised not to use the first year of an ineffective rating to base the needed two years of consecutive ineffective evaluations as grounds to bring formal disciplinary charges against a tenured teacher for termination.

"That agreement between the Buffalo City School District and its teachers apparently rankled SED and resulted in its April 26 memowhich states in part:

"As part of the signed certification in each APPR plan, each superintendent (or BOCES District Superintendent) and the presidents of the district’s or BOCES’ board of education and teachers’ and administrators’ union acknowledged that such plan is the sole plan for the APPR of all classroom teachers and principals in the district or BOCES. With respect to all approved APPR plans, the Department considers void any other signed agreements between and among those parties to the extent that such agreements conflict with the approved APPR plan and the requirements of Education Law § 3012-c and Subpart 30-2 of the Rules of the Board of Regents (“regulations”), and does not recognize any such agreements as part of any approved APPR plan. School districts and BOCES must implement the terms of their approved APPR plans consistent with the requirements of Education Law § 3012-c and the regulations. (emphasis added)

"In response to SED’s April 26 memo, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union wrote a scathing letter to SED Commissioner John King on April 30, 2013, repudiating SED’s position that it has the authority to void agreements negotiated under the Taylor Law. In that letter, NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi states:

"I am writing concerning Dr. Rafal-Baer’s April 26 memorandum to school and district superintendents.

"While SED has the authority to approve APPR plans, it has no authority, beyond that limited power, to void or to pass on the legality of any agreement negotiated under the Taylor Law. Further, SED has no authority to issue a general pronouncement about the validity of Taylor Law agreements it has not reviewed and has no legal authority to review. Accordingly, we have advised each of our locals that we will take every appropriate measure to enforce any Taylor Law agreement negotiated in good faith with its Board of Education. If a dispute arises over the legality of any such agreement, the issue will be decided by PERB or the courts, not by SED.  (emphasis added)

"Dr. Rafal-Baer’s memo is an unfortunate continuation of SED’s repeated attempts to undermine Education Law 3012-c’s collective bargaining provisions. NYSUT continues to support the proper implementation of the law, but will not allow the rights of educators to be abused or the voice of educators to be silenced by SED’s attempts to take away their collective bargaining rights.

"SED’s April 26 memo has created what some would view as strange bedfellows in that many, if not most, School Superintendent and BOCES District Superintendents would wholeheartedly agree with NYSUT on this issue.  Insofar as SED’s memo is concerned, the key word in its pronouncement that “the Department considers void any other signed agreements between and among those parties to the extent that such agreements conflict with the approved APPR plan . . . .”  is CONFLICT.  In order to meet their statutory and regulatory requirements to the Commissioner, school districts and BOCES need only confirm that the provisions of their APPR plan are being implemented as set forth and as approved by SED in accordance with Education Law Section 3012-c and Subpart 30-2 of the Commissioner's Regulations.  Any side agreement on when a district or BOCES will or will not pursue disciplinary action under the new amended Section 3020-a provisions are separate and apart from the APPR plan.  The agreements are really about Education Law Section 3020-a(3)(c)((i-a) and not 3012-c.  Under the Section 3020-a amendments, it remains in a district’s discretion, not that of SED, to file disciplinary charges at the local level to terminate a teacher.

"In a press release also issued on April 30, the Commissioner appeared to somewhat minimize the Department’s definitive position set forth in its April 26 memo. In that press release the Commissioner indicated that while he expected “… roughly the same percentage of teachers to be identified in each performance category (Ineffective, Developing, Effective, Highly Effective) this year as last year.  We have asked districts to be thoughtful in their use of the data from this first year of Common Core assessments when evaluating teacher performance and we have every confidence that they will be.”  The Commissioner has failed to define or even hint at his interpretation of “thoughtful” in this high stakes context.  (emphasis added)

"In a postscript to the Buffalo City School District’s “quiet agreement” with its union, The Buffalo News reported that with a $50 million state aide gun to its head, the Superintendent of the Buffalo City School District issued a written statement informing the teachers union that “The state Education Department has determined that the memorandum of understanding dated Jan. 15, 2013, between the Buffalo City School District and the Buffalo Teachers Federation is void.”  Her written statement further clarifies that “The district will proceed in accordance with the department’s determination.”  

"In response, the union issued its own statement saying, “As far as we’re concerned, the agreement that we reached stands, and we will take whatever action is necessary to enforce that agreement, because it was fair.” BTF President Philip Rumore further stated, “If there has to be a battle, so be it.”

"With these ongoing threats of legal challenges over testing, data and teacher evaluations as set forth by the Commissioner and quickly followed by the Teachers’ Unions – Let the Games Begin!"


NYPPL notes that on April 26, 2013 Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued the following statement:

"The State Education Department is correct in refusing to recognize any side deals between the Buffalo's teachers union and the school district. The suggested collusion was a borderline legal and ethical fraud on our students and the Buffalo superintendent was right to affirm that no side deals will be recognized. We promised the students’ performance - they deserve it and they will have it."

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The Disability Benefits E-book: at

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