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Rumore complains to the commissioner

Right around the time the district sent its school improvement plans to the state education commissioner at the end of December, BTF President Phil Rumore sent his own letter to the commissioner regarding some of those plans.

The state, remember, under former Commissioner Steiner said that it would have a hard time approving plans without sign-off from key stakeholders, including the teachers union. Now, under Commissioner King, the state says the pl Rumoreans just need to show that the union was consulted in the development of the plans.

Rumore made it clear that he opposes the turnaround plans -- which require replacing at least half the teachers -- that were submitted for Futures Academy, Drew Science Magnet and Bilingual Center School 33.

It's not clear to what extent, if any, Rumore's objections will affect the state's decision on the turnaround plans.

Some School Board members, though, are mighty concerned. I've heard some speculation among board members that Rumore's letter on the turnaround plans could have played into King's decision to suspend school improvement grant funds that were already approved for six other Buffalo schools for 2011-12.

I haven't heard any indication from Albany that that's the case, but the frustration level among some board members is running incredibly high.

Here's the letter that has caused considerable irritation in City Hall:

December 27, 2011

MEMO TO: John King, N.Y.S. Commissioner of Education, Members of the Board of Regents
FROM: Philip Rumore, President, BTF

RE: Buffalo Public School Turnaround Plans

First let me thank you and the Board of Regents for working with educators to develop the Educational Partnership Organization E.P.O. model.. The E.P.O. model provides some sanity in the otherwise insane Federal regulations.

The purpose of this correspondence is to provide an explanation as to the reasons the Buffalo Teachers Federation cannot agree to and cannot sign off on the Turnaround plans for Buffalo Schools #33, #37, and #59.

The reasons are as follows:

- While I represented the BTF on the screening committee for the E.P.O.s, neither I nor any officers (Vice President, Secretary or Treasurer) or members of the BTF staff had input into the development of the schools’ Turnaround plans prior to the plans’ approval by the Buffalo Board of Education. Indeed, to this day, I have not been sent a copy of any of the plans for review. [Note: Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon says union members at each building were included in the development of the plans, even if the union's leadership was not.]

- There was no significant involvement of each school’s three-member building committees, the teachers elected by the faculty at each school to represent them to the administration of their respective schools. The building committee consists of the Delegate Chair (lead delegate) plus two other teachers elected by the faculty

The responses of schools #33, #37 and #59 to the question “The School Turnaround Plan Committee that developed the Turnaround plan included which building committee members?” are listed as follows:

                                  School #33                     School #37                           School #59
Delegate Chair                     No                              No                       Only during some revisions
Building Comm.
Member #1                          No                              No                                     No
Building Comm.
Member # 2                         No                              No                                     No
Who selected the
Teacher members?        The Principal               The Principal            The Principal & Ass’t. Principal

- Once presented with the school Turnaround plans, each faculty voted against them. [Note: each school's site-based management team (consisting of teachers, administrators and parents) voted on the turnaround plan. The faculty in each school also voted on the turnaround plan, in a vote held by the BTF. The two votes are separate.]

The vote was as follows:

a) School #33
EPO - 31
Turnaround - 20

Please note that the Turnaround plan submitted to the faculty at School #33 stated that there was to be no transfer of 50% of the faculty. This was removed upon submission to the Board of Education thereby requiring the 50% involuntary transfer of teachers.
After learning of the removal of the original section of the school-developed plan that stated there would be no required forced transfer of at least 50% of the faculty, the faculty voted unanimously that the BTF should not agree to a variance of our contract to allow for the forced transfer of teachers at School #33.

b) School #37
For school-developed Turnaround plan (with 50% transfers) - 0
Against school Turnaround plan - 29

c) School #59
For the school-developed Turnaround plan (with 50% transfers) - 4
Against Turnaround plan - 27

- Although the District stated that the site-based teams at all seven schools voted on the Turnaround plans, please note:
a) The Board of Education and constituency organizations approved Site-Based Plan Document requires all decisions to be made by consensus not a vote. [Note: Dixon at a public meeting conceded that the process used "might not have been perfect," but said the intent was to get input from each individual building's team.]
b) Teachers at most schools were not elected by secret ballot as required.
c) In some schools, people from the community, who are not members of site-based teams, were allowed to “vote”. [Note: Dixon says the votes from non-members were not counted in the vote tally that determined whether to adopt the turnaround plan at each school.]

Regardless, the “vote” of the site-based teams was as follows:
School #33 - Unanimous for the E.P.O. First Hand Learning
School #37 - There was no “vote”.
School #59 - There was no “vote”.

- Buffalo Teachers believe that the federally-mandated forced transfer of at least 50% of the faculty is educationally unsound for the following reasons:
a) It blames the teachers for circumstances beyond their control e.g. state and federal
testing that does not take into consideration the extremely high percentage of English Language Learners (ELL) who speak limited (if any) English but whose scores are counted in a school’s “score”. Likewise, the number of Special Education students are counted in a school’s “score”.
b) It is destructive and disruptive to the students’ education at not only the Turnaround schools but also the schools from which teachers may be forced to move.
c) Forcing the involuntary transfer of at least 50% of the faculty is analogous to moving doctors, who are being forced to use procedures that are killing their patients, to other hospitals.
d) Involuntarily moving 50% of the teachers from each of the Turnaround schools is greatly different from the one or two teachers at schools who have accepted a voluntary transfer to a school that has a vacancy.
e) We have seen no validated studies that demonstrate that such a movement of faculty significantly improves the education of students.

- The involuntary transfer of up to 50% of the faculty at schools is a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the BTF and the District as is the mandating of an interview or similar process in order for some teachers to remain at a school. [Note: Dixon says the involuntary transfers would not violate the contract. She also says that she believes the number of actual teacher transfers necessary will be quite low -- less than a few dozen, out of 3,500 teachers in the district -- once the teacher ranks at each school are pared through naturally occurring events such as teacher retirements, voluntary transfers, and so on.]

A partial list of the contract sections violated are:
a) Article XIV, A – Teacher transfers
“A. A teacher may request transfer to another school by submitting a written request directly to the Associate Superintendent for Instructional Services. In evaluating such request, it will be necessary to
(1) That a balanced staff be maintained at each school;
(2) That the probationary teachers be expected to complete the probationary period in the school originally assigned, except where conditions seem to indicate that a transfer is desirable;
(3)That the wishes of the individual teacher be honored whenever possible.”
b) Article XIV,G
It is desirable that transfers and changes in assignments be on a voluntary basis whenever possible.”
c) The District, in violation of Article XIII and XX of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (C.B.A.), has not, as required by our contract, negotiated the Evaluation procedure of teachers that they have used and will be using to “screen” teachers who wish to retain their current positions at their schools.
d) The District in violation of Article XIV is forcing Federation Delegates, Alternates, Building Committee Members, and Executive Committee Members to re-interview to keep their positions at their school or be involuntarily transferred from that school.
e) The District in violation of Article XIV is involuntarily transferring teachers despite their wishes to remain in their positions, where there is no reduction in force, and is not basing said involuntary transfers on seniority.
f) The above cited evaluation and interview process and involuntary transfer of teachers is a violation of Article XXXVII Maintenance of Benefits. The BTF has not negotiated changes in the C.B.A. that are required by this provision of the C.B.A.
g) The District is in violation of Article XII,K. “No teacher shall be disciplined, reprimanded, reduced in rank or compensation or deprived of any professional advantage without just cause.”

Buffalo Teachers, as always, remain committed to working with you on initiatives that really help teachers teach and students learn.

King tells me it will probably be at least a couple of months before the state makes a decision on Buffalo's turnaround plans.

- 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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