SARANAC LAKE - Local school districts are facing a Jan. 17 deadline to get their teacher evaluation plan is approved by the state.
If their plans aren't approved by then, the districts will lose a state aid increase they were promised for the next school year.
Saranac Lake Central School District Superintendent Gerald Goldman said Wednesday that the district's Annual Professional Performance Review evaluation plan was initially submitted to the state Education Department more than a month ago, but it has yet to gain final approval. The plan was the product of negotiations between the district's administration and the Saranac Lake Teachers Association.
Goldman said the district has participated in multiple teleconferences with the state in the last few weeks to go over corrections to the plan.
"You get everybody in the room, and you have a 45-minute conversation (with) them where they tell you all the corrections you need to make to the plan to make it acceptable," Goldman told the Saranac Lake school board. "We make all the corrections, we submit the plan, and three or four days later we get another phone call because some other associate has reviewed it and they found some additional corrections that need to be made. So we go through the whole process again.
"Instead of making the corrections to our plan all at once with one person who's in charge of approving the plan, we're making these corrections with a bunch of different associates because that's the way they decided to do this. Even though we submitted our plan on time, I think it should have been approved by now."
Bloomingdale Elementary School Principal Theresa Lindsey said another conference call with the state is scheduled for this afternoon.
"Hopefully this will do it," she said.
"I'm optimistic," Goldman said, "but we've found the process to be a little Byzantine. We'd like to be compliant, but I'm on the verge of taking the opposite tack, and it won't be pretty. Let's just hope that I have good news for you (on Jan. 17), because if I don't there's going to be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It would be a 4 percent hit on our state aid. It's our increase in state aid."
As of Wednesday, 682 school districts across the state have submitted APPR plans for review, and 533 have been approved, according to the state Education Department's website. Nine districts have not submitted APPR plans.
The Tupper Lake and Lake Placid school districts, just like Saranac Lake, have submitted teacher evaluation plans, but they were not listed among those that have been approved on the website.
In Lake Placid, the district submitted a second version of its APPR plan on Wednesday. Superintendent Randy Richards said the first submission was sent back with about a dozen pages of corrections and recommended revisions.
"A lot of those corrections were repetitive in nature," he said. "They were terminology problems, or grammatical issues. ... We chipped away, and we divided the work up, and we got it pulled together.
"It's submitted to the state right now. We're just waiting for them to come back and say 'yea' or 'nay.' I feel pretty good about it."
Goldman said many North Country school districts have struggled to get their APPR plans completed and approved. He said that's not a surprise.
"Larger school districts have greater amount of resources to get this done," he said. "Smaller, rural school districts are responsible for the exact same submission of the plan, the construction of a plan, as a school district 20 times its size."
School board members repeated concerns they've raised in the past about the cost of implementing APPR, which they called an unfunded mandate, and the time it's taken teachers away from their students.
"We're spending money that is being taken away from the time that teachers are teaching and the time that administrators should be administrating," said board member Esther Arlan.
Dan Bower, the district's assistant superintendent for business, said he's been trying to compile figures on exactly what the APPR process has cost, but he said it's not easy to determine.
The new teacher evaluation system was pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and took effect this school year. It requires student scores on state standardized tests to be used toward 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation. Another 20 percent is based on locally negotiated, state-approved measures of student achievement. The remaining 60 percent of a teacher's evaluation comes from classroom observations by the principal, using measures developed through districts' negotiations with teachers' unions.
State Education Commissioner John King, in a press release Wednesday, put the pressure on school districts.
"APPR plans focus on effective teaching," King said. "The plans will help principals and teachers improve their practice and help students graduate ready for college and careers. SED staff is ready and waiting to review any new or resubmitted plans we receive, but the deadline is approaching. The longer these remaining districts wait, the more difficult it will be to complete our review by the deadline. We'll move as fast as we can, but we will not sacrifice the quality of the review."
King said his staff is expediting its review of submitted APPR plans, but typically reviews take four to six weeks to complete.
Updated lists of approved APPR plans can be found at usny.nysed.gov/rttt/teachers-leaders/plans/home.html.
Enterprise Staff Writer Chris Morris contributed to this report.