Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown offered to give $2,500 to each of the 106 teachers affected by involuntary transfers this fall in an effort to resolve the stalemate between the union and the district over the transfers.
It didn’t work.
As part of her offer, the Buffalo Teachers Federation would also have had to agree to one of two teacher-evaluation plans that Brown offered – either the model used by Syracuse or by Binghamton.
BTF President Philip Rumore said the offer was “unacceptable.” He noted that the union won an arbitration ruling saying the teacher transfers violated the contract, and a State Supreme Court justice subsequently upheld the ruling.
“We won the arbitration. It was confirmed by the courts. And then she offers money to settle it, but we still have to do other things on top of that,” Rumore said. “You usually have to compensate the people who were harmed – you don’t usually ask them to do more.”
Brown, through a district spokeswoman, declined to comment for this article. The superintendent said she would address the situation with the School Board at its meeting Wednesday.
The stare-down is significant because more than $50 million in state and federal aid is riding on Brown’s ability to get Rumore to agree on an evaluation plan that the state will approve.
It is also significant because this is the first major test of the new superintendent’s ability to negotiate a major agreement of any sort with the union – seen by many observers as an indication of her ability to hammer out a new contract to replace the one that expired eight years ago.
Earlier this month, the School Board voted to authorize Brown to decide how to proceed with the legal battle over the involuntary transfers. Rumore said Monday that the district has filed an appeal in the case.
The union’s 200-member governing body, the council of delegates, voted in late September to suspend negotiations on the teacher-evaluation plan until the district dropped its pursuit of the involuntary teacher transfers.
The district transferred 53 teachers from three low-performing schools this fall as part of the improvement plans at Futures Academy, Drew Science Magnet and Bilingual Center 33. The BTF fought unsuccessfully to get a court order that would have blocked the transfers until the case was resolved.
Brown, in an Oct. 12 letter to Rumore, offered to give $2,500 to each of the 53 transferred teachers, as well as the 53 top teachers on the voluntary transfer list who might have been denied positions in their preferred schools because of the involuntary transfers.
The union would have to agree to drop the court case on the transfers, she wrote, and also agree to either the Syracuse or Binghamton teacher-evaluation plan.
“I believe that the only way we are going to improve our schools and increase academic achievement is if we work together at resolving our issues,” Brown wrote to Rumore. “Therefore, in a conciliatory effort, I propose the following as a final offer to settle two of the outstanding issues that currently threaten to distract us from focusing on our primary mission of educating our children.”
The district submitted a teacher-evaluation plan in July, but the state Education Department rejected it. The state’s primary objection to the plan, according to both Brown and Rumore, involved the awarding of extra points to teachers with a relatively high percentage of students who are chronically absent, have disabilities or do not speak English as their native language.
Under the plan submitted by the district, some teachers never could be rated ineffective, by virtue of those additional points they would get based on their student population.
In two earlier interviews with The Buffalo News, Brown said state Education Department officials had given the district until Oct. 15 to file its final revised teacher-evaluation plan. And in her letter to Rumore, she asked him to respond by selecting either the Syracuse or Binghamton plan – both of which have been approved by the state Education Department – by 10 a.m. Oct. 15.
But a state Education Department spokesman said the state never gave Buffalo an Oct. 15 deadline.
The only deadline was that given by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo: Districts must approve evaluation plans by Jan. 17, 2013, or forfeit their 2012-13 increase in state aid, according to spokesman Jonathan D. Burman. The state has asked districts to submit plans early because it may take the state four to six weeks for a review, he said.