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Buffalo officials head to Albany to fight suspension of school funds

Interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon and three other central office administrators are heading to Albany today to challenge the legality of the state's decision to suspend $5.6 million in federal school improvement funds.

Buffalo is the only district in the state, out of the 10 that lost funding in January, actively trying -- but unable -- to get the funds restored by striking a teacher-evaluation agreement with its union that the state will approve.

A few residents Wednesday urged the Board of Education -- in some cases, politely, and in other cases, less so -- to continue working to secure those funds.

Local developer Carl Paladino lambasted the board for not taking a strong enough position with Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.

"If you can't rise to the challenges, get out of the kitchen," Paladino told the board at its meeting. "Phil Rumore gets away with what he gets away with because you allow it to happen."

Parent leader Samuel L. Radford III asked the board to pass a resolution supporting the District Parent Coordinating Council's call for a concerted effort to negotiate a teacher-evaluation plan.

"We think we can do something as a community to prevent losing $5.6 million this year and $50 million next year," Radford said. "But we know we can't do it in an adversarial way. We want you to pass a resolution supporting parents' call to get all the stakeholders together in a room and stay committed to work it out."

Board President Louis J. Petrucci said the issue needs to be resolved at the state level.

"Something needs to change. It needs to change at a higher level than us," he said.

The state Education Department in January suspended funds for 10 districts, all of which the state said had failed to implement adequate teacher-evaluation plans in low-performing schools by Dec. 31, 2011, as they had agreed to do as a condition of receiving the funds for those schools.

In recent weeks, the state has restored funds to eight districts, including Rochester and Syracuse. New York City has opted not to pursue the funds.

Buffalo Schools Chief Financial Officer Barbara J. Smith, general counsel Christopher Putrino and Associate Superintendent Debra Sykes -- who oversees school turnarounds -- will join Dixon for today's hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

Putrino said the state will present its case first, followed by the district. The state may call two witnesses, he said, and the district may call three: Dixon, Smith and Sykes.

The state is not expected to issue a decision today, but it is required to do so within 10 days under state regulations.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. will not be in Albany for the hearing. He will be in Buffalo today and Friday for the New York State United Teachers conference, which he will address Friday.

Rumore has called for a walkout of union representatives when King speaks, in protest of King's support for teacher evaluations that incorporate student growth, including that of chronically absent students.