The Buffalo Public Schools got state approval for a teacher evaluation plan just in the nick of time Thursday, likely salvaging millions in state aid – while the Hamburg School District apparently forfeited $454,000 for its failure to submit a negotiated plan.
The president and vice president of the Hamburg Teachers Association met early Thursday evening with Superintendent Steven Achramovitch to discuss how to move forward in the absence of that state aid, according to someone in the union.
Hamburg was the only district in Western New York and one of only half a dozen in the state – including New York City – not to have an approved evaluation plan as of 8 p.m. Thursday.
Negotiations in Hamburg appeared to be on the brink of producing a successful agreement Tuesday when a district official told some teachers that their jobs would be lost if the district did not reach an agreement on evaluations. Union representatives pulled out of negotiations then, objecting to what they described as an implied threat.
Leaders of Hamburg’s teachers union asked for help from the New York State United Teachers union at that point, sources said.
“We are encouraging both the district and the union to resume negotiations,” NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said at midday Thursday, but that did not happen.
Neither Achramovitch nor Hamburg Teachers Association President John Mrozek returned calls seeking comment.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo released a brief statement Thursday morning that appeared to remove any uncertainty over the possibility of an extension for Hamburg or any district.
“Today is the final deadline for the handful of school districts, including New York City, that have failed to get their teacher evaluation systems in place,” he said. “Please hear me – there will be no extensions or exceptions.”
At that point, he noted, 98 percent of the 700 or so districts in the state had approved evaluation plans.
“The remaining districts and their unions have until midnight tonight [Thursday] to do the same or they will forfeit the increase in education aid they have been counting on and both parties will have failed the children they serve,” Cuomo said.
In Buffalo, district and union officials reached an agreement Tuesday night. State Education Department officials called them Wednesday morning with a number of adjustments that leaders from the union as well as the district described as minor.
The two sides submitted a revised plan at about 10 p.m. Wednesday and later learned it required further tweaks. Thursday afternoon – with less than nine hours to go before the midnight deadline – State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. publicly announced his approval of a final version of the agreement, which was submitted that morning.
“The new evaluation plan is great news for Buffalo teachers, administrators, parents, and most important, Buffalo students,” King said Thursday. “It’s a strong step toward helping teachers and principals improve their practice, which will in turn help students improve their performance and build a better future.
“Our goal is to make sure every student graduates from high school ready to succeed in college or careers. Buffalo’s evaluation plan is a major step toward helping Buffalo students reach that goal.”
The agreement still faces approval by the Buffalo Teachers Federation’s Council of Delegates, which will vote on it in March. Union President Philip Rumore briefed the council on the plan Thursday evening.
Rumore said he was pleased that the state had approved the plan – but he made it clear he was disgruntled with the entire process.
“The only thing I can say is that it shouldn’t have been this hard and ultimately standardized tests and the [evaluation plan] have nothing to do with helping teachers teach and students learn, and actually works against it,” he said. “I had to negotiate this, but I almost feel like I’m an accessory to a crime.”
BTF members had mixed reactions to the state approval.
“I’ve heard opposition expressed to the idea of an [annual professional performance review] but no one has seen the document yet, so we’ll have to see the provisions laid out in the document,” said Mark Mecca, a school psychologist at Math, Science, Technology Prep.
Marc Bruno, who is considering running against Rumore for the union presidency this spring, said he wants teachers to have at least a month to review the agreement before any vote. Last year’s plan contained mathematical errors in calculating teacher ratings, he said, because it was rushed through without having had adequate time for review.
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said was pleased that the district met the deadline to salvage $33.4 million in state aid, and recoup millions in other that was threatened.