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.
He 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