Sam Radford and Phil Rumore went head to head this week, shouting at each other over -- well, over Buffalo's failing schools, more or less.
I could only touch on their confrontation briefly in this week's story, given that I had a bunch of other ground to cover, too.
But I want to give you a whole lot more. Because this confrontation kind of distills the simmering tension between the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the District Parent Coordinating Council -- which in itself is important for various reasons, not the least of which is that the district has less than two months to bring them and everyone else together to hash out turnaround plans for seven schools.
The exchange between Rumore and Radford took place at a DPCC meeting. The parent group had invited Rumore, Amber Dixon and some board members to talk about the turnaround plans.
This part of the meeting lasted well over an hour. I'm giving you about eight and half minutes of audio that captures a bit of the discussion leading up to the shouting, as well as a bit afterward.
The district has until Jan. 1 to submit plans for seven failing schools. Earlier in the meeting, Rumore reiterated his opposition to a turnaround model that involves moving half the teachers out of a school, saying it is not educationally sound.
He also said that the only model he does support is one that brings in an educational partnership organization to run the school.
The state has said Buffalo must use a variety of federal turnaround models for the schools, or else the district will lose out on $14 million for those seven schools. (That's maximum funding for one year; the schools are eligible for up to three years of funding.) In May, the BTF opposed all but the EPO turnaround model. The Board of Education went with that model, and the district ended up not getting any funding for 20111-12 for those schools.
Now, into our excerpt of the conversation. To give you some context: Radford is citing an article in the most recent issue of the BTF newsletter, in which Rumore says Secretary of Education Arne Duncan canceled plans to visit Buffalo in September because the BTF planned to stage a protest.
Here's the audio, followed by a transcript (as well as I could manage) of the exchange:
Radford: Whether we get Race to the Top money or not, the teachers union already got a contract, y’all jobs are secure, and the status quo will be maintained whether we get resources or not. So you have a winning hand already. Teachers are already winning as it relates to jobs security, y’all have a contract.
There’s no reason really for you to negotiate at all. Because the schools are failing, they’ve been failing, our kids are failing. Your teachers are going to maintain job security whether they do or not.
The position the president took was we want to take 5 percent of the worst schools. Not all the schools, just 5 percent of the worst schools in the country, and we want to turn them around. They put together a plan called Race to the Top.
You said, according to this, Duncan’s cancellation was due to a BTF plan to stage a protest of the visit because (Rumore) believes he is not education-friendly or a friend to education. He asked the NEA representative assembly to issue a no confidence vote in the US Department of Education and the Race to the Top program Duncan supports. The resolution was approved by the 9,000 members of the representative assembly.
It sounds like even before we sit down and hear what the parents at the school think, the teachers at the school think, even before we hear what the board members think, before we know what the administration has, it sounds like the BTF has made its mind up that you don’t agree with Race to the Top, you don’t like the education secretary and consequently you are going to protest him.
You aren’t going to support anything that they do. So at the end of the day, anything that we bring as parents to say how do we turn around these failing schools… Y’all position is you’re against it, you’re gonna protest it.
Rumore: First of all, our issue, if you read the whole article, has to do with treating our students as test scores. It’s in the article. The issue we raise is treating our students as test scores.
We were prepared to have young kids walk around with signs that said, “I am not a test score.” Because our kids are not a test score, a standardized test score. Arne Duncan single-handedly is the one who has been foisting this thing about test scores, we’re gonna measure students by a test score. That is why we took that position, if you read the article.
Second of all, I take great offense on behalf of the teachers to think that the only thing we care about is a contract. If you think for one second our teachers don’t care about the kids, you’re damn wrong. And I resent that. You insult the teachers, you insult me.
Radford: You can get emotional and walk away, but at the end of the day, we respect all teachers. What we don’t respect is fact that teachers who are failing our students continue to get job security and you continue back them up and you then walk away from the negotiating table. And you continue to benefit as the Buffalo Teachers Federation president and the Buffalo Teachers Federation as an organization and our children still fail.
If our children fail, we want them to get some kind of a consequence for that. Because right now, what is the consequence besides a failing student, what is the consequence for a teacher?
Rumore: The consequence to the teachers is very simple. Teachers don’t like to see kids fail. That is why the teachers went on strike to get art, music and physical education in the primary grades. That is why we have class sizes in our contract.
Radford: So why are the kids still failing then?
Rumore: I’m not done yet. Stop interrupting me. I’m not done.
That’s why our contract speaks a lot. What our contract has to do with the issue that we’re discussing here is beyond me. The point is we are opposed to the wholesale movement of teachers throughout this district from non-performing schools to performing schools because it won’t in any way help education.
Radford: And you’re willing to allow us to have another year of failing schools. This year we had $14 million we were eligible for. That according to you, you disagreed with. The Buffalo Teachers Federation disagreed with that. And based on your disagreement, our school district did not submit an application. And when they did not submit an application, every one of those schools lost the opportunity to get those resources.
And we cannot get that year back. And so now, just like you’re offended, we’re offended.
We can raise our voice like you can raise your voice. But here’s the point. We don’t want to raise our voice. What we want to do, we want to do like this, Phil.
I want to demonstrate for you that we can all holler, but after we all holler, your teachers have a contract. Our kids are still failing. What we would prefer to do is sit down at the table and not fall for the trick you just tried to pull on us. Because the trick you just tried to pull on us is get offended and walk away and leave the status quo the same. What we’re trying to do is say no. We don’t want you offended. We invited you to the table to talk. Because we want to keep negotiating until we change the status quo.
At the end of the day, if you all want to teach in empty buildings, that’s a right you have. Think about how it’s gonna be when there are gonna be empty classrooms because the teachers won’t be negotiable for our children. We want everybody at the table as a fair broker. And right now you’re saying you’ll only support one… Did anyone hear something different?
You’re only going to support one plan, EPO. Is that right? So you’re not being a fair broker. If the EPO works, great. You should care enough about our kids to open up the BTF to other options. And that’s all we’re asking for tonight – being open to other options.
(Rumore saying something that can’t be heard clearly.)
Radford: Well, you’re the one that got offended, Phil. I didn’t get offended. You got offended and said you’d walk away.
You thought we were so slow we didn’t understand that that’s a tactic you consistently use. “You offended me.” We’re not here to offend you. We’re all adults. We’re all reasonable adults.
We’re here to negotiate on behalf of our children. We don’t have a contract. We don’t have a lawyer. We don’t have the army of people you march down to lobby to get your way. We don’t have that. So what we’ve got to do is mobilize as parents so we can fight for our children.
So hopefully, hopefully, what you said is true. You’re willing to negotiate. If that works out, wonderful. Because we are looking for an agreement. But what we’re not willing to do is what y’all did last year. That includes you, that includes the Board of Education. We walked away from resources that could have turned around three schools – seven schools. Y’all promised we could do it in January. Now January is here.
So if we get to January and y’all tell us, we couldn’t come up with an application, sorry – we’re not going for that. So hopefully we’ll come up with something.
Thank you again. Let’s have a hand for Phil Rumore.
- Mary Pasciak