Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said they were moving ahead with plans to close and re-open 33 low-performing schools, at the same time they are hoping to negotiate a new and more rigorous teacher evaluation system with the teachers' union.
"As I've said a thousand times over the last 10 years, I'm always optimistic, I always think we can come together, we have done some wonderful work with the U.F.T. and with other unions over the last 10 years, and I see no reason why we can't come to an agreement," Mr. Bloomberg said, after touring the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science in the Bronx with Mr. Walcott.
The mayor's tone was far more conciliatory than the one he took last week during his State of the City address, when he blamed the union for the impasse over teacher evaluations. The state withheld $58 million for 33 struggling schools after the city and the union failed to reach an agreement by the state's Dec. 31 deadline for creating a new teacher evaluation system at schools receiving federal improvement grants.
Mr. Bloomberg portrayed the dispute as two parties with naturally different agendas rather than opponents at war.
"The city represents the public and the students and it is our job to decide who's going to be in the classroom," he said. "The teachers union represents the employees and the city represents the students."
The mayor made his remarks just hours after one of his regular breakfast meetings with the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew. Neither party would characterize the meeting. In contrast to Mr. Bloomberg's stated optimism, Mr. Mulgrew's response struck a different tone.
"Whatever the mayor said today, my phone has not rung,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
Meanwhile the city is moving ahead with its plan to implement a "turnaround" model for the 33 struggling schools receiving federal dollars. This means they would be closed and reopened by September, and shed at least half of their current teachers.
Committees at each school would be appointed to determine which teachers could stay. The union says this isn't allowed and has filed a complaint, but the state has indicated it supports the city's request. Today, Mr. Walcott said the city will hold the requisite public hearings in March or April.
He also denied this shift to a "turnaround" model was an attempt to force the union to cut a deal.
"This is not a threat, this is not union negotiations, labor negotiations, as far as these 33 schools are concerned," he said, adding that the ability to retain the best teachers is more important than chasing the $58 million.
But when asked directly if he would keep the 33 schools open if the city could negotiate a new evaluation system in the near future, Mr. Bloomberg hinted that he was open to such an arrangement. However, he said it would have to give principals the ability to more easily remove poorly performing teachers from classrooms.
"The evaluation process we want to come up with gives you exactly the same abilities" as the turnaround model, the mayor said. "And if we can’t agree on it, we have the ability to do it right now and we’ll do it.”
Regardless of what happens at those 33 schools, pressure is building on the city and the union to hammer out a deal this year. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's new budget proposal calls for withholding his proposed 4 percent increase in school aid from districts that cannot negotiate teacher evaluation systems with their unions by 2013.
For the latest on the state-level negotiations, see this report from Fernanda Santos.