The game plan is set.
The coaching staff of activists is fired up.
The 32,000 fans – from kindergarten to 12th grade – deserve a winner.
All that’s needed now are “players” capable of doing what the city Board of Education has been unable to do: take back the schools from the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
The anger and frustration over BTF obstinacy that have been building for years was evident in City Hall on Tuesday night as parents and activists talked about everything from a class-action lawsuit to appealing to teachers’ better natures.
But the most concrete step would be winning passage of a “parent trigger” law that would give parents – not bureaucrats – the power to close failing schools and reopen them as charters.
Charter schools are to teacher unions what a crucifix is to Dracula. The mere threat of converting schools en masse into charters freed from the BTF’s clutches would give parents leverage the School Board lacks.
Abetted by state laws, outdated contact language and downright astonishing legal rulings, the BTF has beaten the district at every turn for two decades, from aborted contracts to health insurance changes to the latest ruling against a plan to replace staff at failing schools. Only Tom Brady has beaten Buffalo more than union chief Phil Rumore, who takes those victories as proof that the district is to blame.
But just because you have the legal right to do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do. None of these BTF triumphs has helped a poor district. In fact, the latest impasse threatens $58 million in aid because the union won’t bargain teacher evaluations as long as the board pursues a court appeal on the transfers, two unrelated matters he links as an issue of “trust.”
That’s what parents are up against, even as they take the high road by insisting, “It’s not the teachers; it’s their union.” But that ignores two hard truths, the first being that these teachers re-elect Rumore over and over. Obviously, they like what he’s doing.
The other is that nearly 53 percent of city teachers live in the suburbs. And in a district where almost three-quarters of the students come from black and Hispanic neighborhoods, roughly 83 percent of the teachers are white.
That doesn’t mean the teachers don’t care; many do. But it does mean they’re much less amenable to the informal pressures that might otherwise apply. Most won’t face fed-up parents in the grocery store. They won’t get an earful in the barbershop or beauty salon. They won’t have to explain at church why they are tossing kids under the bus.
So with a board that can’t change things, and a BTF that won’t, the parent trigger bills pushed by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and State Sen. Mark Grisanti offer the best hope.
Rumore says parents’ efforts would be better spent improving lousy attendance rates. That’s just one indication that getting the bills through a union-friendly State Legislature won’t be easy.
But having a clear legislative goal could well activate parents used to sitting on the sidelines because they thought they had no juice. They might realize they can be players, and that threat alone could bring the BTF to the table in a meaningful way.
And if it doesn’t, teachers still would have to fall into line – at the charter school application window.
Either way, kids might finally win.