By Joan Gralla
(Reuters) - New York City teachers who are rated "highly effective" for two years in a row would get a $20,000-a-year salary increase, as part of the mayor's renewed push to improve schools.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his annual State of the City address, focused heavily on education, challenging the United Federation of Teachers, to accept his approach to weeding out teachers deemed less effective.
"The education reforms we've pioneered over the past decade - no matter what the naysayers say - have been widely adopted by school systems across the nation, but this year we'll be putting our foot on the gas and picking up the pace," he said in prepared remarks.
Bloomberg has asked voters to hold him accountable for improving the nation's biggest school system with 1.1 million students. But the city lost $58 million in federal funding for 33 schools because its way of evaluating teachers was not deemed
Though the powerful teachers' union has blocked stiffer performance evaluations for the vast majority of the school system, Bloomberg said he has the authority to form committees at those 33 schools to rate teachers and replace up to 50 percent of them. That evaluation program will be put in place, he said, a move that likely will anger the union.
Bloomberg also said he is offering to forgive $25,000 of student loans for teachers who finish in the top tier of their college classes.
The mayor also noted that a long-stalled effort to turn the now vacant Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a business center, one of his job-creating initiatives, is being revived.
Bloomberg said that the cost of his new initiatives will be paid for by making government more efficient, including consolidating some city operations and selling three city-owned office buildings in Lower Manhattan to raise $300 million.
Weaker revenues and layoffs on Wall Street, New York City's economic engine, have taken a bite out of the Big Apple's tax revenues, forcing Bloomberg to close a budget gap.
(This version corrects paragraph 4 to read "1.1 million students," not "teachers")
(Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Jan Paschal)