Buffalo schools “seeking clarification” from state on evaluations side deal

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The superintendent of Buffalo schools said Wednesday in a statement that she did not consider a side deal that the district struck with the local unions promising not to use teacher evaluations in firing decisions to be unlawful.

Superintendent Pamela Brown said she will be in touch with Education Commissioner John King “seeking clarification of the State’s position.”

The state sent a letter to Buffalo last month alerting the district it was aware of a “memorandum of understanding” between the schools and union holding teachers harmless from negative evaluations this year, Gannett’s Albany Bureau reported Tuesday. The state threatened to pull some school aid and grant funding if the groups did not revoke the agreement.

Buffalo Federation of Teachers President Philip Rumore argued Tuesday that the agreement was consistent with state law, as regulations indicate schools “may” use two consecutive negative evaluations as grounds for terminating a teacher. They don’t have to, he said.

Rumore estimated there were more than 50 districts with similar deals — which were not included in the plans they sent to the state for approval — although he said that was just a “guess.” The state sent a similar letter to one other district: Rome schools, Oneida County.

Here’s Brown’s full statement today:

My staff and I have been in ongoing communication with New York State Education Department officials before, during, and since the approval of our Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plan this past January. We, the District, have been committed all along to complying with our approved APPR agreement as well as all related laws, rules, and regulations.

It was our thought that in the development of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) we were doing just that because state law provides that all discussion regarding how evaluations will effect teacher employment be based on procedures negotiated under the Taylor Law.

To the extent that the procedures we negotiated, contained in the MOU, or any of our subsequent actions, are considered by the State to somehow be unlawful, I am in the process of preparing correspondence to Commissioner John King seeking clarification of the State’s position.

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