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Lancaster union chief blasts head of NYSUT Targets agreement on teacher evaluations

The president of the Lancaster teachers union blasted New York State United Teachers President Richard C. Iannuzzi in a recent letter, telling him his "pandering is shameful" and saying NYSUT has "abandoned New York State teachers" by announcing an agreement on teacher evaluations with state leaders last week.

Eric D. Przykuta, president of the Lancaster Central Teachers Association, said in an interview that he believes teachers should be evaluated but that too many questions remain about the state agreement.

Iannuzzi last week joined Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. in announcing the agreement, intended to bring the state into compliance with its 2010 agreement under federal Race to the Top rules.

NYSUT in 2010 filed a lawsuit against the state Education Department, objecting to various elements of the new teacher evaluations, including the possibility of state tests of students counting for as much as 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation.

The agreement announced last week put an end to the lawsuit. Twenty to 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation could be based on student growth on state tests; each district and its union must still negotiate the specifics.

"You stood shoulder to shoulder releasing a joint statement with the governor and the state education commissioner that rescinds all progress made and effectively announced that NYSUT was proud to have abandoned New York State teachers," Przykuta wrote to Iannuzzi. "Your pandering is shameful.

"You have done nothing to protect teachers or advance our agenda as professionals to be respected. NYSUT caved under pressure and ran from the good fight."

Iannuzzi, in a phone interview Tuesday evening, said he has heard from about half a dozen local union leaders critical of him for the agreement. Przykuta's letter, he said, was the harshest. Iannuzzi said he respects the Lancaster union president for doing what he feels is in the best interest of his members.

"But I can't agree with his analysis of the agreement we just worked out," Iannuzzi said. "The purpose of evaluations is about improving and advancing excellence. We tried to strike an appropriate place for student assessment and an appropriate place for the voice of teachers locally through collective bargaining. I think we did that."

He said he looks forward to talking with Przykuta about the evaluations. He said he believes that once Przykuta understands the situation better, he will support NYSUT's actions.

Przykuta noted that the state Education Department still has not announced how it will measure student growth, which will account for 20 percent of evaluations for teachers.

The revised evaluations directly result from the federal Race to the Top initiative, which Przykuta called "a knee-jerk reaction to fix a problem." Race to the Top does not take into account factors such as a student's home environment, which could affect student results, he said.

The state in 2010 was awarded $696 million from the federal government for Race to the Top. Half of that amount was directed to the state Education Department, and half was disbursed to local districts.

Lancaster is to receive $104,904. A number of local suburban districts are in line to receive less than that. Many teachers union presidents -- and district administrators -- complain that Race to the Top funds were not worth what they had to do to comply.

Iannuzzi did not defend Race to the Top but did defend NYSUT.

"NYSUT did not enter these conversations [to reach the state agreement] because we thought Race to the Top was the best thing going," he said. "We entered these conversations because a well-thought-out approach to teacher evaluations that allows you to measure performance and create a model that continually strives to improve teacher performance is what students and teachers need, because that creates the credibility for what we do."

In his letter to Iannuzzi, Przykuta said NYSUT dues are "a horrible waste of hard-earned dollars that members of this association can put to better use."

The Lancaster union president Friday also sent a letter to the presidents of other local teachers unions, providing them a copy of his letter to NYSUT, saying, "I suspect that many of you have similar feelings of abandonment and disgust." He suggested that like-minded unions should hold a summit to discuss their concerns and mentioned the possibility of "severing ties" with NYSUT.

Some other local union leaders contacted Tuesday said they agreed with Przykuta's underlying concerns but felt his letter to NYSUT was extreme.

"I think [his letter] is a little over the top, but I understand their concern," said Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. "There are quite a few union presidents across the state that are really not happy."

He said he would support using test scores as part of teacher evaluations only if the tests were proved to be reliable and if they took into account excessive student absenteeism as well as high numbers of students whose native language is not English and high numbers of special-education students.