Schools, Union Leaders OK Evaluation ; Growth of All Students to Be Taken into Account
Pasciak, Mary B., The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Buffalo school district officials and teachers union leaders at the 11th hour on Friday struck a deal on teacher evaluations that counts the growth of all students, but establishes lower expectations in schools with severe attendance problems.
But the agreement seems to contradict a letter from the state education commissioner, which effectively prohibited the district from making such an allowance for poor attendance in certain cases.
For high school teachers and some elementary and middle school teachers, the 20 points of their 100-point evaluation based on student growth is considered, in Albany's jargon, "the state growth" portion.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. wrote to interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon on March 13, denying an earlier version of Buffalo's teacher evaluation agreement. One of his specific reasons for denying that agreement was that it failed to clarify that the attendance variance did not apply to those 20 points.
The agreement signed Friday by Dixon and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore, though, specifically included an attendance variance in the state's 20 points.
"We're taking sort of a chance on the state growth section," Dixon said. "If you read beyond his language in the letter and beyond the language in any laws we could dig up, we actually meet the criteria for this year. That's why we're willing to go forward and take a chance.
"We can only hope the state agrees it's rigorous enough to meet their approval."
It's a high-stakes gamble.
What's immediately on the line is about $5.6 million in school- improvement grants this year for Bennett, Riverside, South Park and Burgard high schools; and International School 45 and Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute.
King in January suspended improvement grants to those schools, which had collectively been awarded $9.3 million.
State officials have recently clarified that regardless of whether the district's teacher evaluation plan is approved, the state still will issue the payments due from September through Dec. 31, 2011. That means the amount at stake for the remainder of the school year is about $5.6 million.
But the evaluation agreement has larger implications, as well.
Many see the district's ability to successfully negotiate an evaluation plan for this year as a strong indication of whether it will be able to do so next year, when even more money is at stake.
Buffalo -- along with every district in the state -- is supposed to have a state-approved evaluation agreement covering every teacher in every school for 2012-13 in place by July 1, under a state law adopted by the Legislature this month.
If the district does not implement an acceptable plan by Jan. 17, 2013, it stands to lose its $32.2 million increase in state aid for 2012-13, along with another $19 million in improvement grants for 13 schools -- and more than $9 million more in the Race to the Top funds.
Rumore did not respond to a message seeking comment on Friday. …