School districts could receive an increase in state funding under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2012-13 proposed budget, but only if they begin using a teacher and principal evaluation system.
During Tuesday's unveiling of his Executive Budget, Cuomo called for school employee unions to agree to an evaluation system, which allows districts to receive more state funds and the state to keep a federal grant it won to improve education.
Cuomo's proposed budget of $132.5 billion includes $20.3 billion for education.
Funds for school aid are up 4 percent or $805 million over the previous year.
Of this, $250 million is for grants given to school districts that show improved academic performance and management efficiency.
The remaining funds will be given to school districts that start using the evaluation process by Jan. 17, 2013.
Cuomo said none of the state's more than 750 school districts have started the evaluation system, despite New York in 2010 winning $700 million from the federal Race to the Top grant.
When the state applied for the grant, it made a commitment to create the evaluation system, which will use student test scores, among other things, to determine the effectiveness of teachers and principals.
School districts and employee unions had to agree to certain parameters of the evaluation system and New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teachers union, sued the state Department of Education over changes it made last year to the system.
But the state will have to return the grant money unless an evaluation system is in place, Cuomo said.
The governor said the education department and school employee unions have 30 days to agree on a new effective evaluation system or he will propose one.
School districts then will have until Jan. 17, 2013, to start the evaluations or else forfeit increases in state aid for 2012-13 and 2013-14.
"No evaluation, no money - period," Cuomo said. "If you are serious about improving education, this is what you have to do and do this year."
Richard Iannuzzi, president of the state's teachers union, said the union shares Cuomo's frustration over the delays, but feels there are better ways to start the evaluations.
Iannuzzi, in a prepared statement, said school districts and unions have been unable to get the new system going because of a lack of information. The Education Department is supposed to provide a model for measuring student growth and other data that is needed for the evaluation system.
He said the Education Department's appeal of a state Supreme Court ruling that sided with the state's teachers union has also caused delays.
School districts have dealt with two consecutive years of state aid cuts and the reductions have led to cuts in programs and jobs.
Cuomo also proposes giving school districts an incentive to buy buses through a state contract. By going through the state, districts can buy at a lower cost and still be reimbursed for each vehicle. The reimbursements would be limited to districts that buy through the state contract.
In addition, Cuomo is proposing to speed up the disciplinary hearing process for teachers, which is an expensive and long procedure.
Legislators like it
Area legislators said, generally. the governor's budget proposal is on track with what the state needs.
"You certainly know where he stands, and the willingness to work with all parties and be bipartisan," said Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury.
"There's not a lot for us to do. A lot of the actions taken in the budget actually were agreed on when we came back into session in December," said Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro.
Sayward and Little both said they have reservations about Cuomo's proposal for the Olympic Regional Development Authority to take over operation of the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in Ulster County, which the state Department of Environmental Conservation operates now.
ORDA already operates Gore Mountain Ski Center in North Creek and Whiteface Mountain Ski Center near Lake Placid and other Olympic sports venues in Lake Placid.
"I would have to be concerned that Belleayre has been a drain to DEC financially. I wouldn't want it to be a drain on ORDA or take away from Gore and Whiteface," Little said. "But certainly I think that the expertise that they have at ORDA should be able to help Belleayre operate more successfully."
Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, said Cuomo could have used his high popularity to push more specific mandate relief and regulatory reform.
"If he wanted mandate relief in, he could have brought that about," Jordan said.
All area legislators said they are pleased with Cuomo's proposal to streamline state government, such as by consolidating the myriad state Labor Department programs.
Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, said he is pleased Cuomo has proposed additional measures to use electronic records and reports instead of paper copies.
"Basically what he's endorsed and requested of his agencies, authorities, the colleges and universities, is to go digital as best as possible in terms of messaging, reports, interacting with Legislature and other individual agencies and the public," Tedisco said.