Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore charged Thursday that School Superintendent James A. Williams implied that Rumore was a racist in a telephone conversation between the two earlier this week.
According to Rumore, he and Williams were talking on the phone Wednesday about implementation of the Reading First program in nine city schools, when Williams -- displeased with Rumore's position -- said: "If these students were white kids, you would have no problem with this."
Rumore called the superintendent's comment "contemptible, reprehensible and, more importantly, dead wrong," and said he considers the statement an attack not only on him, but on Buffalo teachers as well.
Williams denied making the comments Rumore claims he did.
The superintendent said he cast no aspersions on Rumore and was instead expressing justifiable anger at an agreement reached before he became superintendent that gives teachers at individ
ual schools the power to approve or scuttle a federally funded reading program that is crucial to the district's reform effort.
In other districts, Williams said, school officials can implement the Reading First program without teacher union approval.
"I said: 'Phil, this is crazy what we're doing to poor and minorities students here in Buffalo,' " Williams said. "If this was a white district, the district would not have to go through this silly process. It's disgraceful and totally unacceptable."
Williams said his comments were in defense of poor and minority children and not directed at Rumore. "I never said he was [racist]," the superintendent. "I just used an example."
Williams said he has no regrets about anything he said.
"I have regrets that we're [in danger of losing] $4.5 million to help improve reading," he said. "That's my issue."
Rumore said he was working to gain approval of the reading program at as many of the nine schools as possible when Williams decided to implement the program without teacher approval.
"Be assured that nothing you can say can erase your statement," Rumore said in a letter to Williams and Buffalo Board of Education members. "The message is clear -- attempts to work cooperatively with you are futile and are met with vindictiveness, insults and characterizing me as what most would consider being a racist if you don't like the outcome."
Rumore said that he asked Williams during the phone conversation whether he was accusing him of being racist and that Williams said he was not. Rumore then ended the conversation, he said.
Last summer, a meeting over employee health insurance erupted in anger when Williams called Rumore "a liar" and said that "maybe some day I need to take him out in the alley and kick him in the rear end."