Judge Blocks State from Withholding School Aid

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A judge has blocked the state from withholding $250 million in school aid for New York City as punishment for missing last month's deadline to adopt a new teacher evaluation system.

State Supreme Court Justice Mauel J. Mendez, in Manhattan, granted a preliminary injunction because he said the plaintiffs had a strong enough case to proceed. They argued that the loss of funds would deprive city students of their right to a "sound, basic education" under state law.

The suit was brought by parent leaders and Upper Manhattan City Council member Robert Jackson who said the city won't have to go ahead with mid-year budget cuts now.

"There will not be any reductions in teachers and increase in class size, it will allow us to continue after school programs and anti-bullying programs and things like that," he said.

The state had argued that the loss of funding would not cause "irreparable injury," and that it needed to enforce a teacher evaluation system as a condition for the $700 million federal Race to the Top grant it won in 2010.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state intends to appeal.

One of the plaintiffs, parent activist Mona Davids, blamed Cuomo for the loss of funding. The governor decided in early 2012 to require districts to negotiate teacher evaluation systems with their unions by January of 2013 in order to receive their annual 4 percent increase in education aid.

"It was a horrible punishment to innocent children," said Davids. She added that Cuomo shouldn't have waited until now to propose that school districts use a state-approved evaluation system if they couldn't reach an agreement with their unions.

New York City was among just a few of the state's nearly 700 school districts that failed to meet the deadline.

Davids said she has a daughter who attends LaGuardia High School. She said the mid-year cuts would have amounted to $200,000 per school on average.

Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson issued a statement siding with the plaintiffs, even though the city wasn't a party to the suit.

“We’ve said all along that students should not be penalized for the UFT’s failure to negotiate, and our goal has been and continues to be a fair and effective evaluation system,” he said.

Not surprisingly, the United Federation of Teachers had a different perspective.

"If the mayor hadn't blown up the negotiations, there would be a new teacher evaluation system, not a lawsuit," said Dick Riley, the UFT spokesman.