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Back when Buffalo had a minimum attendance requirement for students

I've heard from plenty of Buffalo teachers lately who are upset about the state's requirement that all students -- regardless of their attendance -- be counted toward the local 20 percent of teacher evaluations that measure growth.

One of the things that has them particularly irked is the fact that Buffalo no longer has a policy requiring students to attend school a certain number of days.

"There's no attendance policy. The students can be absent any number of days and still be counted [as passing]," said Jodi Hammond, a fifth-grade teacher at Frank Sedita Academy.

She and many other teachers have mentioned to me a policy that was discontinued under former Superintendent James Williams -- one that said a student had to attend at least 85 percent of the time. If a student missed more than 28 days, he or she could not sit for the final exam.

I got curious.

I asked a couple of City Hall administrators for a copy of that old policy, but they told me they couldn't locate it. Finally, Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon herself provided a copy to me.

Here's what I found out.

In 2000, the School Board adopted a policy that laid out pretty clear rules for student attendance:

- If a student missed more than 15 percent of days in any marking period, he or she would get a failing grade for that marking period.

- If a student fell below 85 percent attendance for the year, he or she was "denied the opportunity to take their final exam." No distinction was made between excused and unexcused absences.

- Students with extenuating circumstances could appeal the decision.

- Teachers had to send a form letter to parents/guardians after a student misses three classes in a marking period.

Here's an excerpt from a story we ran in June 2001:

   Student attendance rates rose dramatically in Buffalo high schools this year. However, the new attendance policy that prompted the increase also is preventing hundreds of students from taking final exams.
    At Grover Cleveland High School, for instance, about 150 of the 808 students were not allowed to take some or all of their exams because they missed more than 15 percent of their classes in a particular subject. In some cases, the crackdown means students won't graduate on time.
    That was the downside of a policy that, overall, resulted in more students attending more classes this year. As of May 25, districtwide attendance was 92.35 percent, a sizable jump from last year's rate of 90.6 percent.
    While that 1.75 percentage point increase may not sound like much, state officials say it represents a significant improvement when spread across an enrollment of 48,000 students.
    And the trend was even more dramatic at city high schools, where increases -- some of them more than 10 percent -- were recorded at all 17 schools.
    At the same time, individual high schools barred dozens of students from taking exams because they missed more than 15 percent of the instructional year -- or 28 days of class. District officials said that was an inevitable consequence of an 85 percent attendance requirement instituted this year to boost attendance, accountability and achievement.
    "You can't learn if you aren't in school," said School Board President Paul G. Buchanan. "Students and parents have to know that we're serious about this, and that there are consequences. Everyone's first responsibility is to get students to school."


    "The improvement has really been outstanding, and right across the board," said Catherine F. Battaglia, principal at City Honors School, where attendance was up 7 percentage points.
    Attendance at Burgard increased 15 percentage points, to 88 percent from 73 percent. There were also gains of 9 percentage points at both South Park and Buffalo Alternative high schools, and 8 percentage points at Emerson Vocational High School. Principals said those numbers closely reflect the results of earlier marking periods.
    More-modest increases were posted at most city elementary schools.

The changes in the attendance policy coincided with changes in the grading policy. Beginning in 2005, among other things, teachers could not give a report card grade lower than 50 in any marking period. (But the details on that are interesting enough to warrant a blog post of their own another day.)

Now, here's an excerpt from a story that ran in June 2006, after the minimum attendance policy was lifted:

    On some days, as few as three of 25 registered students show up for Bonnie Campbell's art class at Buffalo's Lafayette High School.
    And in Rhonda Mathiebe's health class, attendance dips as low as eight of 32 students.
    Teachers place much of the blame on a new grading system that allows many students to pass their courses even if they don't show up for the second half of the school year.
    Many students have learned that, if they earn an 80 average through the first half of the school year, they can skip the rest of year and still pass. The lowest grade the district gives is 50, so that grade averaged with the 80 results in a passing grade of 65.
    Teachers said the new policy -- which involves the elimination of district-generated final exams -- has caused low attendance rates at Buffalo public high schools to get even worse.
    "It [absenteeism] is just rampant," said Campbell, a teacher for 30 years. "The students know they don't have to be here [to pass], and there's no way of keeping them in the building."
    The problem is hardly confined to Lafayette. For the attendance period that ended March 31, 12 of 13 city high schools had lower attendance rates than they did during the corresponding period last school year.
    In many cases, the drop was severe. Riverside's rate fell from 78.5 to 67 percent; Seneca's from 82.2 to 74.5 percent; East's from 81.1 to 77.3 percent; and Lafayette's from 83.8 to 78.6 percent. School officials say attendance rates of less than 90 percent are unacceptable.
    The grading system in effect since December is a significant factor, Lafayette Principal Jacquelyn Baldwin said.
    "There are students who are smart enough to find the out," she said. "The kids looking for the out took it."    

Last week, Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes told me the district would not be likely to adopt a policy again that sets a minimum bar for student attendance: "That was a policy that serves adults and not students. The district is not going to engage in that kind of reversal any more. I can't imagine a time when we would create a policy that punishes students for not attending school instead of looking at why they don't attend school and solving those problems.

"That policy created a scapegoat for student attendance problems. It blamed parents and families entirely. The district did not assume any of the responsibility, and that was wrong. When we create schools that engage students, attendance improves."

This week, Dixon told me that in 2005, when the policy was changed, it seemed to make sense to do away with a minimum attendance requirement. 

"Kids weren't allowed to take Regents exams. The legality was, how can you stop a child from taking a Regents exam in New York State?" she said. "It was viewed as an obstacle to graduation. If attendance was keeping someone from getting course credit on a course they had passed, we weren't helping anyone move along."

She said she's going to leave it up to the principals to provide guidance to the district on whether the district should reinstate a minimum attendance requirement. A group of high school principals already met; elementary school principals will be meeting soon.

"I did direct our principals to start looking at that and make a recommendation," she said.                                

- Mary Pasciak

Read the commissioner's letter denying the teacher eval plan: "inadequate"

Here's the complete letter that state Education Commissioner John King sent to Amber Dixon, denying Buffalo's latest agreement on principal and teacher evaluations:

March 13, 2012

Dear Superintendent Dixon:

In recent weeks, the Buffalo City School District and the State Education Department have engaged in ongoing technical assistance regarding Buffalo’s efforts to submit evidence of compliance with the requirements of its 2011-2012 School Improvement Grant (SIG) application related to teacher and leader evaluation and support in its schools. The Department has carefully reviewed your district’s most recent submission and determined that it does not constitute sufficient evidence of compliance with the 2011-2012 SIG requirements related to teacher and leader evaluation and support.

Based on the attendance exclusion provision currently contained in the glossary of your district’s most recent SIG submission, the Department has determined that your submission is inadequate. Even if the Department were to consider an attendance provision to be allowable, any provision that describes a locally-developed control must specifically exclude the State growth subcomponent. Your district’s attendance exclusion provision does not specifically exclude the State growth subcomponent and is therefore impermissible.

Moreover, to the extent your district wishes to construct a submission that takes attendance into account as part of its locally-developed measures subcomponent, you must submit evidence that such a control will be rigorous, transparent and equitable.

The approval of your district’s SIG application was based in part on signed commitments submitted with your application that stated that the districts and the teachers and principals unions would revise, by December 31, 2011, collective bargaining agreements for classroom teachers and building principals assigned to Transformation schools to implement the provisions of Education Law §3012-c, Commissioner's regulations, and the SIG application. Although §3012-c applies to teachers and principals in grades 4-8 English Language Arts and Math in 2011-12, the SIG application – consistent with the federal SIG guidelines requiring a rigorous, transparent and equitable evaluation system that takes into account student growth – further required evaluation in the four §3012-c categories (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, Ineffective) using student growth as at least 20 percent of the composite evaluation score for all other teachers and principals in 2011-2012.

Pursuant to 34 C.F.R. §§80.43(b), 76.783(b) and 76.401(d)(2)-(7), your district has requested and is scheduled for a hearing to determine if our decision to suspend SIG funds violates any state or federal statute or regulation. Buffalo’s hearing is scheduled for March 22, 2012. We encourage your district to continue to work with its union partners to submit evidence of meeting the terms of your 2011-2012 SIG grant award prior to the hearing date that addresses the issues and concerns described above.


John B. King


- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of School Board meeting at 5:30 p.m.

Please join me online at 5:30 p.m. today, when I live blog the School Board meeting. Among the items the board is expected to take up: the possible appointment of a non-voting student member of the board.

- Mary Pasciak

When will Albany ride in and save Buffalo's schools?

In the midst of all the talk about the millions that the Buffalo schools stand to lose in the absence of a teacher evaluation agreement the state will approve, I've heard more than one person speculate that the state is sitting back, waiting for things to get so bad that it has grounds to come in and take over the district.

I've even heard a School Board member speculate along that line recently.

Hernandez at mtg"If we botch this up, no matter who's at fault, the state is coming in to take full control," Ralph Hernandez told me. "They're watching. If we botch this up, then for them, it will be show time."

That got me thinking about all the rumblings I've heard over the past two years about a state takeover of the district. I've heard Regent Bob Bennett and Commissioner John King both talk about the legislation that would give the state the authority to take over a persistently failing district. I know School Board members worry -- some more than others, and at certain times more than others -- that if they  can't turn the district around, they'll find themselves tossed out while Albany takes over.

How much substance is there to all the talk?

There's a bill that was introduced last year that would allow for the state to unseat the School Board in a "chronically underperforming" school district.

How, exactly, would that play out?

Well, it's hardly a quick process that the bill spells out.

First, a district would have to be identified as being in "stage one academic or financial at-risk status." Next, the district has 90 days to come up with goals, and a plan for achieving them.

If the district fails to meet those goals for three consecutive school years, then the commissioner can find it to be in stage two -- and appoint a distinguished educator to help the district meet its goals.


Let's pause for a moment here.

John King2Bennett and King have been saying since September and October that they would be appointing a distinguished educator to Buffalo. I've been hearing since about December a certain name circulating as the apparent appointee -- but still no contract has been signed. Just file that away in the back of your mind for a few minutes. We'll revisit it soon.

Back to the legislation.

If the district fails to meet its goals three years in a row, the commissioner can designate it as being in stage three of academic or financial restructuring status. At that point, the commissioner appoints an independent review team.

If that team determines the School Board's actions or inactions have "interfered with implementation of the district's plan," the Board of Regents can remove all the School Board members and appoint a three-member education oversight board.

That oversight board would have the power to appoint a new superintendent.

So -- could the state swoop in and take over Buffalo?

Theoretically, yes.

But that hardly seems likely to happen, and certainly not any time soon.

For one thing, the bill doesn't seem to have much support in the Legislature. Elected officials are not too keen on unseating other elected officials.

Crystal Peoples-StokesI talked to Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who has introduced more than one measure supported by Buffalo parents.

Does she want to see Albany step in?

"God forbid there's a state takeover of this district," she said. "I don't want to see that happen. I don't think that's the right thing to do. I'm a little disheartened it would even come to this, that adults would consider their issues more important than the needs of children."

On top of that, there's the practical matter of whether State Ed actually has the capacity to take over an entire district. That's only happened once before in New York, in a small downstate district called Roosevelt about a decade ago, and even state officials admit it turned out to be a disaster. 

The state has been talking for months about appointing that distinguished educator -- someone to serve the Buffalo schools in an advisory role -- and even that hasn't happened yet.

Last night, at the Common Council's education meeting, parent Jessica Bauer Walker said something that cut to the heart of the matter -- see her second sentence below.

"What this broken system wants us to do is become disheartened, so that we, as a community, believe we are inadequate and broken and wait for some higher power to save us. Nobody will save us but ourselves," Bauer Walker said.

There's no cavalry suiting up in Albany, just waiting for the word to ride into Buffalo.

Even if that legislation were to get the necessary backing among lawmakers, it would literally be years before there were any kind of takeover.

Of course, it's possible a legislator could introduce some other state takeover bill, one that would expedite the process.

But even if that happened, it would probably do little to address the most immediate situation facing Buffalo schools.

The issue at hand is the district's inability to reach a teacher evaluation agreement with the union that the state will approve. The district reached an agreement acceptable to City Hall and the Buffalo Teachers Federation, but Albany said no. I'm not clear on how changing the School Board or the superintendent would alter that scenario. The teachers contract would remain in effect, even if the School Board were unseated and the superintendent were replaced.

In the meantime, the district now has a little over a week to submit a teacher evaluation plan acceptable to both State Ed and the BTF. That appears to be the only chance it has to salvage $9.3 million in school improvement grants for six schools in 2011-12.

Sam Radford in recent days has taken a more conciliatory tone toward the union, saying it's time to hash out a solution.

The district sent three City Hall administrators -- Fran Wilson, the chief academic officer; Debra Sykes, who oversees school turnarounds; and Darren Brown, who runs human resources -- to Albany on Monday in a focused effort to find some kind of compromise. Exactly how well that effort goes remains to be seen.

Everyone I've talked to in the district and in Albany seems to feel quite strongly that they want to see the district come up with some kind of solution so that it can keep the $9.3 million.

Bob Bennett2"This is not a good situation. It's not one we can allow to stand," Bennett said. "We cannot afford to lose that money for these children. We've got to keep working on it."

The district must count every student's growth in its teacher evaluations, he said. That's not negotiable.

But Bennett insists there must be a compromise that can be found.

"I'm not going to sit idly by and watch Buffalo lose $50 million," he said. "I asked John [King] to keep talking to [Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon]. I think Amber's on top of this thing. Nobody wants Buffalo to lose this money -- especially Amber."

The clock is ticking.

District administrators have a hearing with State Ed on March 22, when they will ask the state to reconsider its decision to suspend the $9.3 million. If Buffalo does not have an acceptable teacher evaluation agreement in place, it seems nearly certain that money will be lost.

Radford told me last night that if it gets to be around this time next week, and there's still no solution in place, he's going to call on a higher power to help broker a deal.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Radford noted, has declared himself "the students' lobbyist."

"If we get to March 20 and we still don't have a solution, I am going to ask the governor to step in and help us negotiate one," he said. "But there's no need to ask [now] for help solving something that we can solve ourselves."

Stay tuned.

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of Common Council education meeting at 5 p.m.

Join me at 5 p.m. today for a live blog of the Common Council's education committee.

The meeting is being billed as "an emergency community meeting," largely in response to the pending loss in state aid resulting from the impasse over teacher evaluations.

Parent leader Sam Radford is coordinating the meeting. Scheduled speakers include: Charlie Fisher, president of BUILD of Buffalo; Jessica Bauer Walker of the District Parent Coordinating Council; Stephon Wright, the Emerson High School student who is hoping to be appointed to the School Board; Lynn Bass, principal of Tapestry Charter High School; and Wendy Mistretta, a parent leader at International School 45.

Also: Helene Kramer, chairwoman of United Partners for Public Education; Janique Curry, a former School Board member; Sam Magavern, co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good; Hannya Boulos, director of Buffalo ReformED; and Darius Pridgen, Ellicott District council member.

 The press release says: "Organizers say they want the public to understand the facts and the gravity of the situation, but also stress that they are focusing on being solution-oriented. The goal of Monday's meeting is to provide the public with accurate and timely information about the current situation within the Buffalo Public Schools, and to develop a community-driven action plan for moving forward."

Last week, Radford was talking about preparing for battle if the Buffalo Teachers Federation voted to keep the attendance clause for teacher evaluations (which it did). Now, he -- and many others -- seem to be toning down their approach, calling for discussion and suggestions for solutions, rather than clashes and war metaphors.

- Mary Pasciak

No booing, no bullying at Council of Delegates meeting, BTF members say

Last week, an email from a BTF rep criticizing how the vote on teacher evaluations went down drew quite a slew of responses.

Overwhelmingly, those who emailed me and posted comments on the blog in response to that letter disputed that teacher's version of events at the union meeting -- and quite a few criticized me for publishing that email.

I want to present some of those comments here.

First, a recap of the email that touched off such a firestorm, and then a sampling of the responses.

The Council of Delegates voted unanimously -- with one person abstaining, out of a group of about 200 -- to maintain the student attendance provision in the teacher evaluation agreement.

That teacher's email criticized the general atmosphere in the meeting: "To say that meeting was run in a fair and impartial way would be like saying the sky is green... The supposed 'virtually unanimous vote' is a sham. It was coerced, forced, and bullied onto the rest of us."

Those who spoke in favor of the motion to keep the attendance clause in the teacher evaluation agreement were "met with public applause and standing ovations," while those who stood up to speak in opposition were "booed and told to sit down," the teacher wrote.

Then, when it came time to vote, the teacher said, Phil Rumore did not allow enough time for anyone opposed to the motion to voice their vote: "The three delegates from my building were not even able to open our mouths to vote no, because there wasn't time to do so." The teacher said that when there was a standing ovation, about 20 of the 200 delegates remained seated, "in my opinion because they were not able to support the vote."

The teacher said those with an opposing point of view were not given ample opportunity to express themselves.

And then, after the meeting, according to the email, the teacher and two others from the same building were verbally attacked for "not understanding the greater good."

Dozens of people who wrote in to dispute the account -- many of them being BTF delegates who were also at that meeting -- took issue with the part of the email that said those who tried to speak in opposition were booed.

"I was at the union meeting and there was no booing or intimidation. There was a room full of thoughtful adults who had considered the issue in its entirety," one reader, identified as BUFFED, commented.

Wrote another reader, Cuban61: "I was at the meeting last night. People were given time to speak and ask questions. I don't know what meeting the unnamed source was at, it was not the meeting that I attended. The only bullying I have felt lately has been from State ED."

Another reader, ALISON18, self-identified as a member of BTF's executive committee, wrote:

"I was at the meeting last night. I spoke and voted for keeping the clause in. NO ONE WAS BULLIED. Every delegate present had the chance to speak. If you are elected to a leadership position you should have the guts to speak up for your beliefs. The delegates that spoke for removing the clause were listened to and applauded even though they were not in the majority. The vote was taken and there was plenty of time for people to cast opposing votes. People didn't stand because, like myself, I was too tired!!! Delegates voted freely and were NOT coerced!!!"

Phil Rumore called me, as well, to refute the characterization of the meeting in the email, saying everyone had an equal opportunity to speak.

"There was plenty of debate on it. There was pro and con," he said. "There was no booing. I run a very respectful meeting."

Added Kelli Monaco-Hannon, in the comments online: "What was suggested in the letter is just not true. I, too, was present at the meeting last night. There were no boos and certainly no one was told to sit down when addressing the council of delegates. The only standing ovation happened at the end of the meeting after the vote was taken. None of the individual speakers were given a standing ovation.

"It sounds as if anonymous wrote the letter off the cuff and in a very emotional state. Perhaps he/she should have waited awhile before firing off an email vilifying his/her union brothers and sisters with a fictitious account of what truly happened at the meeting. May I suggest that the next letter Anonymous write be a letter of resignation from his/her position as BTF delegate in his/her school."

Monaco-Hannon was one of several people to suggest that the author of the email ought to resign as a BTF delegate.

"Awww, did snookums get scared at the UNION MEETING? Did you think there would be champagne and crudites, and that upsetting topics would be considered 'unrefined'? Time to grow up, pumpkin, and realize that the world is not rainbows, lollipops and roses. Do the right thing for your building and resign as a union rep. Have you never even seen a historical 'primary source' photo of a union meeting?" wrote SHORETHING.

NOREALLY wrote: "Sniveling to The News that the big mean teachers made you vote against yourself has got to be one of the most reprehensible and scurrilous acts I have seen from a so called colleague in a long time. Let me guess what your nickname would be if we ever had to strike. Hint: it rhymes with slab. Resign and let someone with the courage of their convictions represent your building."

Some of those responses to the email led other readers to respond to the responses.

"Thank you to NOREALLY and SHORETHING, for your bullying replies which confirm for Buffalonians that in fact an intimidating environment was created, and this teachers rendition of events is likely accurate," wrote BUFFCIT.

Another reader concurred.

"NOREALLY, your abusive response directly supports the anonymous teacher's claim that the climate in the room was hostile towards any dissent. Not many people would feel comfortable standing up in that kind of environment," wrote THEWORDSMI.

Several people took me to task for publishing the email.

"Shame on Mary Pasciak for publishing this article by Anonymous. I attended the meeting Wednesday night and Anonymous must be delusional because none of those blatant lies ever took place!" wrote POTOMAC98.

One commenter agreed with the email's version of events.

"I was also at the BTF meeting last night. My school (ECC 17) did overwhelmingly vote to remove the clause from the APPR. I agree with the letter in regards to the general climate and atmosphere of the meeting. It did not come across as a welcoming place for alternate views," wrote GREGJOHN99.

"I personally did not go to the mic, I didn't feel my comments would have changed any minds or votes. In hindsight, I do wish I had the chance to vote 'no'. As the vote was taking place, I turned to the other member from my school, and went to respond, but just couldn't do it fast enough. I paused, my fault. I could have said something, but with the vote outcome, didn't find it necessary."

The community dialogue about the teacher evaluations will continue to play out over the coming weeks and months, and my coverage will continue to unfold.

I appreciate all the reader input. I think having these sorts of conversations as a community is one of the best things we can do to move our schools forward.

- Mary Pasciak

BTF vote was "coerced, forced and bullied onto the rest of us," union rep says

Last night at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew, nearly 200 members of the BTF's Council of Delegates debated, then voted on, the student attendance clause in the teacher evaluation agreement. The result: a nearly unanimous vote, with only one person abstaining.

I was not allowed into the room, so I can't tell you first-hand what happened.

What I can tell you is that one of the union reps I heard from afterward sent me an email that described in some detail what took place inside the room when the vote was taken.

Here is that email in its entirety, published here with the permission of the teacher who wrote it (but on the condition that I not identify the teacher):

I was one of the nearly 200 teachers that were in attendance tonight at the BTF Counsel of Delegates Meeting.  To say that I am outraged at the meeting would be an understatement.  To say that meeting was run in a fair and impartial way would be like saying the sky is green. 

The meeting got particularly upsetting when discussion began on the motion to keep or remove the clause.  Teacher after teacher got up and complained about the District, the State, the students, and the parents.  Each teacher made their own individual pitch as to why we should all vote to keep the clause in the [annual professional performance review] document. 

Teachers in support were met with public applause and standing ovations.  Several teacher stood up to talk in opposition to the motion, and they were booed and told to sit down.  As alleged professionals, in the same union, showing "solidarity", how one member can blatantly be rude and outright disrespectful to a colleague is beyond me.  If their students acted that way in class, they would be outraged, and you can guarantee they would be removed by Security immediately. 

Let the outrage continue...  Phil stopped discussions at point to remind everyone that (not exact) "legally you do not have to vote here tonight in accordance with your buildings.  Morally, you may want to, but legally you do not have to."  If we were asked by the BTF to assemble the teachers in our buildings, take a vote, and bring those results back to the Council of Delegates, how can you be encouraged to not vote that way?!  That is absolutely and utterly absurd.

Now, let's talk about the vote itself.  Phil asked all those in favor to say "Aye".  A majority of the delegates did respond.  He said "all those opposed"... and waited no more than 2 seconds for a response, before moving on the abstentions.  The three delegates from my building were not even able to open our mouths to vote no, because there wasn't time to do so.  The only reason there was an abstention, is because that teacher cut Phil off while he was announcing the "unanimous" vote!  While the Council of Delegates stood up for a standing ovation, there were at least 20 people that remained seated, in my opinion because they were not able to support the vote. 

Never in my tenure as a BTF Delegate have I experienced such obvious irresponsibility on behalf of the teachers of the Buffalo Public Schools.  To admit that layoffs may come as a result of this decision, and turn our backs on the newer younger crowd, because we "have paid our dues and put the time in" is the biggest lack of solidarity imaginable.  The fact that myself and two other teachers from my building were verbally attacked after the meeting for not "understanding the greater good - you're new, what do you know" and "it's for your future". (Oh yeah, when I'm unemployed will I have a future?) 

I have always been proud to be an employee of the Buffalo Public Schools.  I take my job seriously, and strive to teach every child to the best of my ability.  Today, I can officially say that I am absolutely ashamed to be a member of the Buffalo Teacher's Federation.  We have screwed up big time.  The supposed "virtually unanimous vote" is a sham.  It was coerced, forced, and bullied onto the rest of us, costing millions of dollars and countless jobs.

Way to go Phil.  Always the best for the kids, right?

- Mary Pasciak

And Rumore's response to the board

School Board President Lou Petrucci sent a letter to BTF President Phil Rumore last night, asking the union to reverse its position on the student attendance clause for teacher evaluations.

"The point is that your stand, however well argued or heartfelt, will result in a direct loss of funding to our lowest performing institutions," Petrucci wrote. "The children who attend these schools cannot afford to wait for a long drawn out court action. Their exams will not be deferred until a legal decision is reached. Members of your union may be laid off because their positions were predicated upon receipt of this money. The line that you have drawn in the sand is both damaging to student achievement and expensive to both organizations."

Rumore responded today, placing blame squarely in Albany: "It is the Commissioner and Board of Regents who are unreasonably and unconscionably using our students as pawns."

Read Rumore's full letter:

Dear Mr. Petrucci,

            Thank you for your letter of 03/04/2012. Unfortunately, I must disagree with most of its content. 

            First, it is not Buffalo teachers who, in our opinion, are illegally and immorally responsible for withholding funding from our students based upon a section in our APPR that has nothing to do with the education of either the students with horrendous absenteeism problems or those who attend school regularly; but rather, it is the Commissioner of Education, apparently speaking for the Board of Regents, who is withholding these funds and who has stated that he will not approve an MOU that contains any reference to student absenteeism.

            The student absenteeism issue is being decided by a vote of all the teachers in all schools. The vote will be conveyed by the Delegates vote at our Council of Delegates meeting. The vote will determine whether a teacher’s evaluation should be based upon the test scores of students who are illegally absent for 6, 7, 8 or more weeks of the school year i.e. whether the absenteeism section in our APPR should be removed. I believe any fair minded person would agree that basing a teacher’s evaluation on students whose attendance in school is close to nonexistent is wrong.

            Indeed, it is the Commissioner and Board of Regents who are unreasonably and unconscionably using our students as pawns.

            Buffalo teachers would have hoped that you and the other Board members would focus on the people who are withholding the funding as the source of the problem and be laying the ground work to appeal this arbitrary, capricious and, we believe, illegal action.  We also urge you to join us by utilizing all legal means to secure these wrongfully withheld funds.  

            As for your absurd and inaccurate representation of our position that “The basis for your objection to the proposed teacher evaluation method is the causal link between instruction and student achievement. You do not believe that if a student has not had enough instruction time in the classroom, the teacher should not be held accountable. Yet, by placing conditions and thus eliminating the funds, and by relation teachers, you are causing the very situation to occur that you are raising objections over. Our lowest performing schools will lose the additional instruction that these students need if they are to perform at the highest level that they can.” The teachers that you refer to are there now teaching, the students are not. You can add or subtract teachers; however, they cannot instruct empty desks.

As this is written, I do not know the outcome of the vote by the teachers in the buildings. Regardless of the vote, we would hope that you and the Board would direct your attention to the perpetrators of this outrage, the Commissioner and Board of Regents and not your teachers. Teachers give their all for their students, they have no power to force their students to attend class and they cannot teach empty desks. 


Philip Rumore

- Mary Pasciak

Read the School Board's last-ditch effort to persuade teachers

When the School Board voted last night to ask the Buffalo Teachers Federation to drop the attendance provision in the teacher evaluation agreement, Board President Lou Petrucci circulated among the board copies of a letter he had drafted to BTF President Phil Rumore, elaborating on the request.

The original draft of the letter apparently contained some pretty strong language, which at large board member Barbara Seals Nevergold objected to.

"I specifically asked that you remove from this letter references saying refusal of the language would lead to a battle," she said. "We're trying to work in a collaborative vein. There was language used by others implying there would be a war, and I think that's the wrong message to send."(She seemed to be referring to comments made by parent leader Sam Radford, indicating the parents were prepared to "go to war" to "defend our children.")

Petrucci agreed to take the wording out out of his letter.

But Sharon Belton Cottman, the Ferry District board member, said taking the language out doesn't change the situation.

"I think it needs to be clear that there is a battle waging inside this district by the parents in regard to this issue, and they are not taking a backseat. If we cannot resolve this, how are we supposed to turn around the failing schools?" Cottman said.

"We as a board are willing to work with the collective bargaining units. We have groups that are preparing for a fight. We are willing to work with BTF. However, we do report to our constituents, and they are preparing for a fight. Just because we scratch this (wording) out, does not mean it's going away."

Here's the full text of the letter that Petrucci faxed to the BTF last night:

Dear Mr. Rumore:

On behalf on the Buffalo Board of Education and the children who attend our PLA schools, I respectfully ask that you remove any conditions from the proposed district-teacher evaluation method. Any such condition will mean that the pending school improvement grants (SIG) will not be approved and will cost the district millions of dollars in aid, the possible lay-off of dozens of teachers mid-year, and will negatively impact the instruction of the thousands of children who attend these schools.

We place a premium on the hard work and efforts of our teachers. We know full well that we have asked much of you and your organization these last few months. The Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) has met with us and we have been able to come to consensus on a variety of issues. Let us continue in that spirit of cooperation and remove the barrier that prevents the approval of our SIG funding. Failure to do so will undermine our efforts to date and has the potential to create a division between teachers and their pupils and respective parents or guardians who all have a very real interest in student achievement. There aren’t any winners when this situation occurs, only degrees of loss.

We realize that this is a difficult decision for your organization. We understand the argument that a teacher cannot teach a student who is not in their classroom. That is not the point. The point is that your stand, however well argued or heartfelt, will result in a direct loss of funding to our lowest performing institutions. The children who attend these schools cannot afford to wait for a long drawn out court action. Their exams will not be deferred until a legal decision is reached. Members of your union may be laid off because their positions were predicated upon receipt of this money. The line that you have drawn in the sand is both damaging to student achievement and expensive to both organizations. Any victory would be, at best, Pyrrhic.

The basis for your objection to the proposed teacher evaluation method is the causal link between instruction and student achievement. You do not believe that if a student has not had enough instruction time in the classroom, the teacher should not be held accountable. Yet by placing conditions and thus eliminating the funds, and by relation teachers, you are causing the very situation to occur that you are raising objections over. Our lowest performing schools will lose the additional instruction that these students need if they are to perform at the highest level that they can. 

The decision to remove the condition of attendance will not be popular among many of your members. We realize that this is a bitter pill to swallow. We submit that the alternative is far worse and will set back student achievement at these schools and the district on a variety of levels.

In closing, we ask that you reconsider your actions and remove any conditions of attendance from the teacher evaluation method.

Thank you for your time and any consideration. I can be reached at (716) 609-1367 or


Lou Petrucci

President, Buffalo Board of Education

Park District Representative

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of parent meeting at 6 p.m.: teacher evaluations and student attendance

Join me at 6 p.m., when I'll be live blogging the District Parent Coordinating Council meeting.

The group is expected to ask the Buffalo Teachers Federation to drop its support for a student attendance provision in the teacher evaluation agreement -- and call for a meeting next week to plan its next steps, if the union maintains its support for the provision.

- 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 |