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Waiting for miracle won't fix the schools

It's said that in parts of Buffalo, there's a church on every other corner.

Maybe that's why so many people here believe in miracles.

How else to explain such public apathy in the face of failing schools and union opposition to any improvement effort as the district makes a last-ditch appeal in Albany today to circumvent the Buffalo Teachers Federation and snare $5.6 million?

That faith in a higher power was apparent Monday when only about 40 people -- in a district with about 35,000 students -- turned out to protest the teachers union's refusal to sign an evaluation plan that would send the aid to struggling schools.

The no-shows apparently believe that union chief Phil Rumore, like Saul on the road to Damascus, will miraculously change -- even when he looks out of his office window and concludes that, by and large, nobody cares. The crowd was so small that Rumore turned the event into a photo op, inviting the demonstrators inside.

Granted, weather conditions were miserable for Monday's rally, but that's no excuse. Conditions are miserable every day for students in the city's failing schools. Besides, turnout was no better for a similar protest two weeks ago on a sunny day.

Or maybe the no-shows believe that teachers will miraculously give up their cosmetic surgery rider so that the money saved can go to the classroom.

Or that teachers will miraculously give up their contractual monopoly on stipends for coaching positions that many of them are not qualified to hold, opening the door for skilled coaches in the community to help Buffalo's student-athletes and inspire better attendance.

None of that will happen without massive, sustained public pressure, including -- ultimately -- making officials who write the laws and sign the contracts protecting teachers more afraid of parents than they are of the union.

Forty people can't instill that kind of fear.

You can bet teachers will get better participation if the BTF follows through on its threat to walk out when State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. addresses the statewide teachers convention that starts here today.

It's not that parent leaders haven't tried. They've been a constant on community radio shows and at neighborhood meetings, enlisting ministers and anyone else to publicize their protests and drum up support. They will keep on, because "if we run out of energy, we end up with what we have now," said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.

"What we have now" clearly doesn't work for most students, only about half of whom graduate on time. But it works great for teachers, who refuse King's call to be held accountable for their ability to deal with challenging kids.

It should make parents mad. It should make hundreds -- not dozens -- want to demonstrate and get involved with the parent group's efforts. It should make parents want to stage their own protest outside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center when teachers gather there today through Saturday.

But maybe that's not such a good idea after all, given how few actually would show up. In Buffalo, "power to the people" refers only to having electricity in every home.

In the meantime, no matter what happens in Albany today, teachers will keep getting paid. Administrators will keep getting paid. And students will keep getting shortchanged.

And the vast majority of parents, rather than take up the fight, will keep waiting for a miracle.

Obviously, they've haven't heard that the Lord helps those who help themselves.

email: rwatson@buffnews.com