Frustrations continued to boil during a public meeting Tuesday night over the impasse between the Buffalo Public Schools and its teachers union over a teacher evaluation plan – a stalemate that threatens to suck more than $50 million in state aid and grant money out of the district.
“What we have in front of us right now is a situation where [the union] is holding our citizens hostage because they just don’t want to be evaluated. And that is just not acceptable,” said L. Nathan Hare, executive director of the Community Action Organization of Erie County.
“Now, I don’t know what our leverage is,” Hare said. “People are talking about boycotting and holding the kids out of school. I’ve got other people talking about home-schooling every kid in the City of Buffalo. I don’t want to get into tracks that don’t take us to someplace we can control.”
More than a dozen speakers at a Common Council education subcommittee meeting expressed the view that the Buffalo Teachers Federation is holding students hostage by refusing to negotiate a new annual teacher evaluation plan with the School Board.
Despite the lamentations, no specific plan was advanced to bring teachers to the bargaining table.
More than $33 million in state aid to the district, and an additional $25.3 million in grants, hinges on whether the union and the School Board can hammer out an agreement in time to meet a Jan. 17 deadline.
Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Committee, said Tuesday was an effort to get city lawmakers to use their influence to persuade the teachers union to resume negotiations. It was prompted by a presentation by Buffalo Schools Superintendent Pamela C. Brown.
“We’re here today because the superintendent gave a presentation before the Board of Education last Wednesday where she let us know, essentially, that what we thought was already resolved was not resolved,” Radford said.
The School Board and the union have been here before. The point of contention between the administration and the union continues to be the state-mandated system for evaluating teacher effectiveness and prescribing remedies for struggling teachers.
Last year, BTF President Philip Rumore grudgingly agreed to work out an evaluation pact with the district, but the pact applied only to some teachers and expired at the end of the last school year.
The sticking point for working out an evaluation plan for this school year, Rumore has said, is the fact that district officials are continuing a court battle over the involuntary transfer of 53 teachers from three low-performing schools.
An arbitrator ruled that the transfers violated the union contract, and a State Supreme Court justice upheld the ruling. The district is appealing the case, prompting the union’s Council of Delegates in September to vote to suspend negotiations on the evaluation plan until the district drops its court fight.
“Why should our children pay the price because [the BTF] can’t get [its] way on the teacher transfer issue?” Radford asked Tuesday.
“They’re willing to sacrifice our children for their benefit,” he said, adding that since most BTF members are not city residents and do not have children attending schools in the district, “they don’t have the same kind of skin in the game that we have.”
At-large School Board member John B. Licata and Park District member President Louis Petrucci were the only two board members to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Licata appealed for help from the community to persuade the BTF to return to the negotiating table.
“I’ve got skin in the game, but I can’t do this alone,” Licata said.
The School Board, he said, cannot act unilaterally and must negotiate with the BTF on a new teacher evaluation agreement.
“We’re stuck with the solution provided to us by the state government and the federal government,” Licata said.
Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, expressed hope that Rumore will eventually come to the bargaining table before the deadline, as he has done in the past.
“If you watch his pattern, he will change,” Peoples-Stokes said.
Still, she expressed frustration that much-needed resources for the district hang in the balance.
“When we have the kind of graduation rates we have in Buffalo and the kind of academic performance that we have in so many schools, we don’t need less resources. We need more,” Peoples-Stokes said.
Other speakers at Tuesday’s meeting focused on what they believe are programs needed to inspire low- performing students to do better academically.