An appeals court has set April 1 as the date it will hear the Buffalo Public Schools’ appeal of the teacher transfer case, and unless the teachers union and district officials radically change their stances, city schools will lose $33.4 million in state aid.
The union since late September has refused to negotiate on teacher evaluations until the district drops its court fight over the involuntary transfer of 51 teachers this fall from three low-performing schools.
An arbitrator ruled that the transfers violated the contract. A State Supreme Court justice upheld that ruling. In four months, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court will hear the district’s appeal.
Any school district that does not have an approved teacher evaluation plan in place by Jan. 17 will lose this year’s increase in state aid – for Buffalo, $33.4 million – under the deadline Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set last year.
“Why don’t they just abide by the contract?” Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said of district officials. “Once they agree that the teachers can go back if they want, we’re willing to sit down with them.”
Rumore and district officials say they believe the two sides would likely be able to reach an agreement on teacher evaluations fairly readily if they were to come to the table.
The district submitted an evaluation plan to the state in early July, but state Education Department officials took issue with the way the plan awarded extra points for teachers with a large number of students with disabilities, students who don’t speak English fluently and students who are chronically absent.
While the BTF sometimes parts ways with its parent organization, New York State United Teachers, in this case, the Buffalo union has the support of NYSUT.
Richard Iannuzzi, president of NYSUT, said he believes Rumore is doing the right thing. “I’d love to see them at the table [negotiating teacher evaluations], but you can only be at the table if your contract is being treated with respect,” Iannuzzi said. “When an arbitrator and the courts say your contract is being violated and the district continues to do so, then there isn’t any respect, and you shouldn’t be at the table.”
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown declined to comment for this report but in recent interviews has said the district will not drop its appeal of the transfer case.
The teacher transfers were required as part of a federal school improvement model the School Board chose for three low-performing schools. “We are required to adhere to federal and state law,” she said recently. “I am not going to change my decision to do that.”
She has repeatedly called on Rumore to resume negotiations on teacher evaluations.
If the district loses this year’s increase in state aid, she said, about 600 teachers and other staff could be laid off in midyear.
More than 600 of the nearly 700 districts in the state had submitted evaluation plans by late last week.
“Syracuse, Rochester – all these other districts have somehow been able to do this,” Brown said. “Why we can’t get that kind of cooperation in Buffalo, I just can’t understand.”