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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
President, Buffalo Board of Education
Park District Representative
- Mary Pasciak