Teachers Affirm Stance on Student Attendance ; Millions Riding on Refusal to Alter Evaluation Policy

By Pasciak, Mary B. | The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), March 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

Teachers Affirm Stance on Student Attendance ; Millions Riding on Refusal to Alter Evaluation Policy


Pasciak, Mary B., The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)


The Buffalo Teachers Federation's council of delegates voted overwhelmingly Wednesday night to maintain an attendance clause in this year's teacher-evaluation agreement -- a move that appears all but certain to cost the district $9.3 million this year.

Unless the union alters its stance in the next few months in negotiating next year's evaluation plan, the district stands to lose more than $30 million more in 2012-13, as well.

Most of the delegates interviewed said they think it's unfair to be held accountable for the performance of students who are chronically absent.

"It's a difficult situation. It's kind of like the state is telling us we have to take that provision out," said Mark Mecca, a school psychologist at Math Science Technology Preparatory.

"You either accept the reality of the situation and go along with something you don't really want to do, just to help the district get the finances, or you vote consistent with your beliefs -- and I think most people here would agree that it doesn't make sense to be held accountable for students who aren't there."

Mecca was one of nearly 200 teachers in the council of delegates who voted Wednesday at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew. The vote was unanimously in support of keeping the attendance provision, with one teacher abstaining.

Philip Rumore, president of the BTF, said that if the state rejects the district's teacher-evaluation plan because of the attendance provision, he will pursue legal action.

"This is something I think we can legitimately fight," he said. "Our attorneys see nothing that gives the commissioner grounds for precluding this. We'd probably take the position that it's arbitrary and capricious and that there'd be irreparable harm that would be done to our students."

Told of the vote outcome, interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon said she would be in contact with state officials today. "I am disappointed in the vote. I expected the council to act in the best interest of the children of the district," she said.

Many teachers said they felt bullied by state officials and district administrators.

State Education Department officials told district administrators last week that they would not approve a teacher-evaluation plan that excludes some students on the basis of attendance.

"Many people felt the governor and the commissioner of education are basically using this to blackmail teachers by stating we are going to be harming the children, because teachers are going to be losing their jobs," said Donna Dickey, a teacher at Olmsted School 64. "We're not using children as pawns. We're saying, be fair. If these children are not in school, how can we be held accountable for them?"

Dixon has said that 59 jobs in the six schools are funded by the $9.3 million that the district would lose. When the grants were initially suspended in January, she said the district would have to lay those teachers off if the funds were lost. …

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