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Will Rumore blink?

For months, Phil Rumore has been steadfast in his opposition to Buffalo using the school turnaround model that requires moving half the teachers out of a building.

Involuntary transfers of teachers violate the union contract, he has consistently said, and do not improve educational outcomes. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the words "the 50 percent stupid solution" come out of his mouth, in reference to that particular turnaround plan.

Well, my conversation with him on Thursday was a little bit different.

RumoreHe still used the phrase "the 50 percent stupid solution," but for the first time in the eight months I've been having conversations with him about this, Rumore spoke in terms that were not black and white.

Here's what he said:

I personally still oppose it, but ultimately, the decision on whether to allow it or not would have to come from our Council of Delegates (which is made up of reps from every school). The only way I could ever agree to it is that it would have to be a vote of our Council of Delegates, in consultation with our faculty.

The Council already took the position last year not to do it.

If one of the schools wanted to vote for the 50 percent stupid solution, it's not just that school that's affected. They would have to find people to go into those schools or force other people to go into them. So it affects more than just that school.

Now, that's hardly a ringing endorsement. I understand that.

But compare that to what he said about a month ago (which pretty well echoed what he'd been saying for months before that):

We will not sign off on summarily moving half the staff. How does that improve education? The students have a relationship with these teachers. It’s ludicrous.

Why does all this matter?

Because Rumore's position on that turnaround model could heavily influence Buffalo's shot at millions in federal funds.

Remember, when the issue came up last spring, Rumore refused to support any school improvement grant application that involved moving teachers. State officials said it would be incredibly difficult for them to approve plans that didn't have support from key stakeholders. And the School Board reversed course with just a few weeks before the plans had to be filed, and Buffalo went looking for outside partners to work with those schools.

Well, we all know how that turned out. The board decided there were no good proposals for four schools, and didn't file applications for those schools, and then the state rejected the other three applications. Left on the table: As much as $14 million this school year.

The state gave Buffalo until Jan. 1 to submit revised plans for the schools.

Commissioner John King has been clear: Buffalo cannot use the same model for all seven schools. 

The district has been working on parallel tracks to develop plans for the schools. Each principal put together a plan that involves moving teachers. And the district asked outside groups to submit proposals to run each school.

Rumore was on the committee that vetted those proposals. That committee ruled out three of eight groups that submitted proposals -- which effectively left Drew Science Magnet and Futures Academy with no potential outside partner. So the only option on the table for those schools is moving the teachers.

While there is no actual line on the school improvement grant application for Rumore's signature, state officials have said that if anything in an application would involve a deviation from the union contract, then Rumore would have to sign off on those specifics.

Will he or won't he?

For months, the answer seemed to be a definite "no."

Now, it seems there's some wiggle room in Rumore's position.

How will things play out?

The school improvement grant applications are due Jan. 1. We should find out by then.

- Mary Pasciak

Musical chairs in central office

Mark Frazier took a $36,000 pay cut this week to take a job as director of special education -- a union position that carries a $98,222 salary.

(Frazier also will no longer be collecting his $20,000+ a year stipend to run the Leadership Academy, which came on top of his $134,000 district salary for serving as lead community superintendent, one of the highest-ranking positions in City Hall.)

Last night, after the board meeting, he handed me a memo with a written statement regarding his new position. I quoted from it in today's online story, but the quote got cut out of the print edition, due to space limitations. But here is his full statement:

Mark FrazierWithin three days of Amber Dixon being named Interim Superintendent, I met to inform her that I was interested in pursuing the position of Director of Special Education in the Buffalo Public Schools. I then embarked upon the legitimate process of applying for Recruitment Bulletin 11-28. I was interviewed on November 4 and 22, 2011, before being unanimously approved by the Board of Education on November 30, 2011. I am grateful that members of the Board of Education continue to believe in my leadership with their vote of confidence in approving my appointment.

I am proud of the work I accomplished as a member of the Superintendent's Cabinet under five Superintendents from 2000-2011 as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Assistant Superintendent for Leadership and Evaluation, Community Superintendent, and Lead Community Superintendent on behalf of our students, families, and District employees. It is with unbounded enthusiasm and great passion that I look forward to serving the District and school community in my new capacity as Director of Special Education.

With his new position in special ed (filling a vacancy, by the way, that came about following a retirement), Frazier becomes the latest in a line of exempt administrators who have left their positions in the last several months. General counsel Brendan Kelleher returned to the private sector; executive administrator Erin Comerford took a job in the private sector; two people in human resources, Faren Gault Wilson and Kara Murphy, left the district; and let's not forget, former community superintendent Fran Wilson has been appointed chief academic officer, leaving her former position vacant.

It's worth noting that Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon says she will not fill Frazier's former position as lead community superintendent (the job change takes effect for him today).

That's not necessarily a new thing -- Dixon also did not fill Comerford's position, nor did she fill the human resources positions (she used the money from their salaries to add clerical staff in that department).

But what is new with Frazier's situation is that, for the first time in recent memory, an exempt employee has taken a lower-paying, union job within the district.

Will he be just the first of several to do so? That remains to be seen.

But more than one person has pointed out to me that several upper-level administrative openings -- including two assistant superintendent positions (one for fiscal services and one for shared accountability), a director of elementary ed, and a supervisor of reading, among other things -- have recently been posted, fueling speculation that other exempt administrators may soon be following Frazier's lead.

We should find out soon whether that will be the case.

Remember, soon after her appointment as interim superintendent, Dixon had predicted we would likely see fewer than 20 exempt administrators by January -- compared to the 28 on the payroll under her predecessor.

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |