A decades-old practice of filling Buffalo teaching vacancies on the basis of seniority appears to be concentrating young, relatively inexperienced teachers in the city's neediest schools, an at-large Board of Education member says.
Christopher Jacobs fears that the seniority provision in the district teachers contract may be resulting in "unintentional discrimination" against low-income and minority students. The board, at his request, recently voted unanimously to create a task force to study the issue.
An analysis conducted by Jacobs showed that schools with large minority enrollments last year had a considerably greater percentage of young teachers than schools with lower minority enrollments.
For example, Bennett High School, where 90 percent of the students were minority, had a teaching staff with an average of nine years' experience. Hutchinson Central-Technical High School, with a minority enrollment of less than 50 percent, was staffed by teachers who had been on the job for an average of 20 years.
School officials in Philadelphia have concluded that a similar seniority-based system there is hurting low-achieving schools. The district is attempting to end the practice in negotiations with its teachers. In addition, a complaint has been filed with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, claiming the system violates the rights of minority students.
Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said Jacobs' resolution is based on the faulty assumption that young teachers can't rise to the challenge at needy schools.
"I think it's an insult, and he owes our young teachers an apology," Rumore said. "Most of the statements I've heard from him have basically been anti-union. It probably has something to do with the fact that we didn't endorse his candidacy (for the board)."
The seniority system is included in the district's contract with the BTF and can be changed only through negotiations.
Jacobs said his analysis was a "cursory look" and that the issue will be examined more closely by a committee comprised of board members and representatives of local universities, the legal profession and the minority community.
"I'd rather put together some people to really do a thorough analysis of this and then present it," Jacobs said. "I want to take a step back and look at it comprehensively."