The Buffalo Public Schools will move forward with plans to involuntarily transfer 54 teachers out of three low-performing schools, district officials said Wednesday.
"We know 80 to 90 percent of the students in these schools have failed for years, and that's not an acceptable proposition to the board or myself," Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said.
The Board of Education met with outside attorney Karl Kristoff behind closed doors for about 40 minutes during a special meeting Wednesday to discuss a recent arbitration ruling in the case.
The arbitrator determined last week that the teachers contract does not universally prohibit involuntary teacher transfers, but certain aspects of the way the district implemented the transfers did violate the contract.
After the board met privately with Kristoff, the attorney read a statement announcing the board's decision to appeal the arbitration decision. By appealing the decision, the district will remain eligible for more than $5 million in federal school improvement plan funds in 2012-13 for Drew Science Magnet, Bilingual Center 33 and Futures Academy, he said.
"A decision to implement the award without exercising the district's right to appeal all but guarantees that the district will be ineligible to receive the greatest amount of funding available from the State of New York for the current academic year," Kristoff said.
The district and the union are scheduled to appear in State Supreme Court at 9 a.m. today regarding the arbitration decision.
The superintendent said the district must act in the best interest of the students in the three schools.
"Beyond thinking about what would be disruptive for us or other adults in the system, we have to put the children first and do what we believe will make a significant difference in the learning opportunities for those children," Brown said.
"That has been put off year after year after year. It's not an acceptable proposition for the children in those three schools."
More than half of the 54 teachers who have been involuntarily transferred had requested voluntary transfers, she said.
"One could infer from that there is not an unwavering commitment from all those teachers to be transferred to stay in those schools and do what is necessary for the children," she said.
Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore, who was at the board meeting, said he was not surprised by the board's decision, but he was disappointed.
"Obviously it's a continuation of confrontation instead of collaboration," he said.
Rumore told the board members he had warned them a number of times over the past several months that the involuntary transfers violated the contract.
Teachers will not be happy that the district has decided to press for the transfers, he warned the board on Wednesday.
"The only thing I can tell you is your action tonight is going to cause great anger among the teachers of Buffalo," he said. "We warned you months ago it was a violation of our contract. It's not just about our contract. Moving half the faculty at each of these schools is more disruptive than anything I can think of."
In an interview outside the meeting, Brown disputed an assertion that Rumore has frequently made over the past year or more. The union president has often said there is no evidence to prove the turnaround model is effective.
Brown said that while she was a central office administrator in Philadelphia, 13 schools adopted the turnaround model. Each one, she said, showed "more academic gains" than district-wide averages.
"There is definitely evidence the turnaround model can be effective and has been effective," she said.
Darren Brown, the district's executive director of human resources, confirmed something that Rumore has told reporters more than once: Some of the teachers who did not successfully pass the screening process at their own school were moved to one of the other three low-achieving schools using the turnaround model.
"It is possible one teacher may have been moved from [Bilingual Center] to [Futures Academy]," he said. "It may be that they fit in better with [Future Academy's] turnaround plan. We're not saying those teachers are bad teachers."
In a somewhat related matter, the board Wednesday approved a $340,000 contract with Research to Practice, which the board decided last December to hire to run Buffalo Elementary School of Technology.
The state approved $1.7 million in improvement funds for that school for this year, but the funds are contingent upon the district submitting a teacher and principal evaluation plan for 2012-13 that the state will approve.
The district submitted evaluation plans by the deadline early in July, but the state so far has not approved the plans.
Although the district decided several months ago to hire Research to Practice, the group has not yet started working in the School of Technology because of the holdup in grant funds tied to the teacher and principal evaluation, according to Debra Sykes, associate superintendent.
Several board members complained that they were not given a copy of the 75-page contract with Research to Practice until they arrived at City Hall Wednesday afternoon for the board meeting. "I am upset that we continue to get last-minute decisions dumped on us," said Sharon Belton-Cottman, who represents the Ferry District.
Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak suggested tabling the contract for a week, to give board members a chance to review it.
Several board members initially seemed in favor of that. But at-large board member John B. Licata pressed for the contract to be approved Wednesday.
"Each one of these children is in a persistently low-achieving school. We're saying, 'Well, a week doesn't matter to us.' Well, maybe it matters to them," he said.
The board approved the contract, which contains a provision that if the district does not have a teacher evaluation plan in place by Nov. 30, the agreement becomes null.
Also Wednesday, the superintendent announced that she has appointed former Bennett High School principal David Mauricio as a community superintendent. He is one of the few upper-level central office administrators with experience working in a high school.
Mauricio's appointment fills a vacancy that was created about a year ago, when Fran Wilson was appointed chief academic officer under then-interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon.