With a deadline of Jan. 17 looming on the horizon, area school districts are working to finalize the process of getting their Annual Professional Performance Review plans approved.
The majority of school districts in Chautauqua County and surrounding areas are still under review by the New York State Education Department to have their APPR plans approved and thus securing state aid for the following year. For those involved in the negotiations and submissions of these plans, the APPR process has been nothing short of taxing.
"We calculated that (the APPR process) would take one person working eight-hour days, with no breaks or holidays, a total of 18 weeks to do this on their own," said Robert Breidenstein, superintendent of the Salamanca City Central School district.
The APPR plans have been compiled as part of a state mandate that requires an agreement between each district's teachers' union and principal's union regarding a yearly evaluation process. The state mandate is rooted in the federal government's Race to the Top program, which granted New York state with close to $700 million in funding.
Roughly half of the money is being allocated to individual school districts in order to implement the regents reform agenda and its distribution is performance-based. The Race to the Top program, first announced in 2009 by President Obama, is funded by the ED Recovery Act, which is part of the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009.
Currently, eight school districts have successfully completed the APPR process including: Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Dunkirk, Fredonia, Frewsburg, Pine Valley, Randolph, Sherman and Silver Creek. The Frewsburg Central School district was the most recent to be added to this list, receiving an official seal of approval by the state Education Department on Friday morning.
"We've had three phone conferences with our review team and are putting the finishing touches on our revisions as a result of those conversations."
Deke Kathman, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent
Meanwhile, the remaining school districts are playing the waiting game. While all of the districts have made their original plan submission, some are waiting to hear feedback from the state Education Department and most are in the process of negotiating changes with their individual representatives. The concensus from those who have had feedback is that the finalization process is coming down largely to language and phrasing.
"Most of the issues have been semantics with very few concerns about the overall plan," said Breidenstein.
"It's almost to the point of being typos," said Bert Lictus, superintendent of the Panama Central School district.
"We've had three phone conferences with our review team and are putting the finishing touches on our revisions as a result of those conversations," said Deke Kathman, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools. "We have three pages of line items involving semantics and we had to add to our appendices, but there's only one item requiring us to get back to (union) negotiations."
The review process is being considered by most districts to be helpful, if a bit tedious.
"The state Education Department is being very cooperative in getting us to where we need to be so I'm confident we'll have this done by (the deadline)," said David Davison, superintendent of Westfield Academy and Central School.
"(The APPR process) was a positive experience," said Danielle O'Connor, superintendent at Frewsburg Central School. "The person I worked with was very helpful. They were wanting more detail with each submission but once I developed a collaborative relationship with the person following our plan, it went smoothly."
The list of districts currently undergoing the review process with the state Education Department include: Bemus Point, Brocton, Chautauqua Lake, Falconer, Forestville, Jamestown, Panama, Salamanca and Westfield. Ripley Central School made its initial APPR submission earlier this week and is waiting to hear from the State Education Department.
The Cassadaga Valley, Clymer and Southwestern school districts were unavailable for comment.
An updated list of districts with approved APPR plans can be found on the state Education Department's website at: usny.nysed.gov/rttt/teachers-leaders/plans/home.html. The website provides a link to each individual approved plan which includes a cover letter of congratulations from John B. King, Jr., the state Education Department commissioner.