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The good news out of the mess in the Buffalo Public Schools is that students in three low-achieving schools may not be deprived of the benefits of $5.1 million in federal funds, despite the death dance that school officials and the teachers union seem to crave.

That's the only good news, though.

An arbitrator ruled in August that the district's decision to transfer 54 teachers out of those schools violated its contract with the Buffalo Teachers Federation. This week, a State Supreme Court justice agreed.

If the school district accepts that ruling, the teachers will be transferred back to those schools - Futures Academy, Drew Science Magnet and Bilingual Center 33 - and the district will forfeit that $5.1 million, its penalty for failing to have adopted an acceptable school turnaround model.

The district doesn't have to accept that decision as final, though. It can appeal, and it should. Normally, it would potentially be wasteful to pursue an appeal that seems likely to fail, but not in this case.

With an appeal, the teacher transfers will remain in force, and that should allow the district to access that federal money and, more importantly, presents the possibility that the students in those schools won't be forced to sacrifice yet another year of their educations to the agendas of adults.

Still, it didn't have to be this way. The Buffalo School District has a destructive habit of doing what it wants without ensuring that it complies with the contracts it has signed. In this case, that failure to follow procedures may have been especially damaging because the arbitrator had ruled that the transfers might have been allowable if the school had followed the process set out in the contract.

Even that is questionable, because the procedure gives the BTF equal representation on a panel that would review proposed transfers, but how hard would it have been just to try? There would at least have been some possibility of success.

It is also depressing to watch the BTF pursue a business-as-usual approach while the district and students continue to fail. It is unfair to the students and to the entire city, which will always be held back if parents cannot believe their children will receive a solid public school education in Buffalo.

Other good things are happening in the district, including the arrival of Say Yes to Education, a nonprofit organization that promises a college education to students who graduate. The city also secured a $6 million grant from Promise Neighborhood program, which is patterned after the successful Harlem Children's Zone. Those efforts are welcome, but much more needs to be done in a school district that fails so many of its children.

Unless the district and the BTF have an awakening - the district getting serious about its contract, the union dropping its 1930s-style policy of labor confrontation - the district will continue to struggle. Everyone - students, teachers and parents - deserves better than that.