NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City and its teachers union failed to reach a deal on a teacher evaluation system, making it all but certain the city will miss a midnight deadline and forsake more than $250 million in state money, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Thursday.
The question of how best to evaluate teachers - and how cities can remove failing teachers - has sparked clashes across the country between cities and teachers unions. Just such a disagreement over evaluations was behind last year's seven-day strike in Chicago.
In New York, talks between schools' Chancellor Dennis Walcott and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew broke down at about 3 a.m., but officials from both sides delayed any announcement until the afternoon.
In dueling press conferences, each side rushed to blame the other: the union accused the mayor of taking a "my way or the highway" approach, while Bloomberg and Walcott said the union had sabotaged the deal.
"We were very, very close. Extremely close," Walcott said.
He said the talks broke down after the UFT demanded the agreement sunset in 2015, and that the city double the number of arbitration hearings available to teachers who file grievances.
The additions were "obviously designed to keep the deal from working," Bloomberg said, noting that it takes two years to remove a teacher who is found to be ineffective.
But Mulgrew said it was City Hall that blew up the deal saying the sunset provision had been part of the talks for some time.
"What I just saw is an elected official trying to cover their backside," Mulgrew said, after watching Bloomberg's and Walcott's press conference. "We agreed. We had an agreement... He probably said, 'Oh, I have to do something to blow that up.'"
The state has made teacher evaluation systems a condition of receiving millions of dollars in aid. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would not extend the deadline.
The disagreement marked the latest chapter in Bloomberg's contentious relationship with the teachers union. Earlier this month, he drew rebukes after he seemed to compare the union to the National Rifle Association - the nation's leading gun lobby.
Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate for gun control, said both groups take extreme positions that are out of line with the more moderate views of their memberships.
The fight over the evaluation system comes as the city is locked in a battle with the union representing school-bus drivers who on Wednesday struck for the first time in 34 years.
For the second day in a row, thousands of New York City schoolchildren, including many with special needs, had to find alternative ways to get to school.
(Reporting By Edith Honan; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)