The Buffalo Teachers Federation and the district administration have agreed on a teacher-evaluation plan that State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said he will approve -- a development that will likely restore $5.6 million in aid to six schools.
The agreement, which applies only to those six schools and only for 2011-12, is subject to approval by a majority of the 3,500 teachers in the district, who will vote by secret ballot next week.
More than two dozen teachers met with district officials for a total of four days this week and last week in the Hearthstone Manor, Depew, to try to work out an agreement.
The end result was a document that was nearly identical to one that the union's council of delegates rejected in late March. The most substantive change was an adjustment for teachers in schools with a high percentage of students whose native language is not English.
But teachers directly involved in the recent meetings said they were pleased with the collaboration between the union and the district, and most seemed to have a better understanding of the agreement.
"The district and the teachers are working hand in hand to provide a quality agreement to really evaluate quality teaching," said Fred Sales, who teaches Spanish at Riverside Institute of Technology, one of the six schools directly affected by the agreement.
"The commissioner, Dr. King, has been realizing that students' performance is affected by other things, such as attendance. And if you are an [English as a second language] student coming from another country as a refugee, you can't be asked to pass algebra."
Many teachers at the Hearthstone Manor on Wednesday said they were satisfied that the agreement addressed their major concerns but left room for improvement when it came time to negotiate an evaluation agreement for 2012-13.
"We came up with an agreement we can live with," said Sue Baker-Kroczynski, a teacher at George Blackman School 54. "Is it perfect? No. Can we live with it for this year? Yes."
Under the proposed agreement, any teacher in a school where 20 percent or more of the enrolled students are not native English speakers will have 2 points added to their overall evaluation score, which is out of a possible 100 points. So if a teacher in such a school gets an overall score of 84, the additional points would give them a final score of 86.
It appears that the allowance will affect only two of the six schools, based on the most recent information available from the state Education Department. Half of the students at International School 45 have a native language other than English, as well as 20 percent of the students at Riverside.
In the other four schools -- Bennett, Burgard and South Park high schools and Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute -- the percentage of such students is below 10 percent.
The teacher-evaluation agreement also makes an allowance for teachers in high schools where the percentage of students with chronic and severe attendance problems exceeds that of the district overall.
But that allowance applies only to one particular portion of the evaluation, which is worth a possible 20 points. That is the same allowance that was included in the March agreement that was rejected by the union.
The agreement reached this week also made minor changes to three scoring charts.
Interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon and union President Philip Rumore both hailed the most recent agreement as the product of an effective collaboration between the two sides.
"This shows what happens when we both agree to go back and try one more time," Dixon said. The two sides have been trying since December to reach an agreement the state would approve.
"Groups of teachers from the affected schools were sitting at the Hearthstone with us. I think these teachers had a better understanding of the law and what the document actually meant," Dixon said.
Rumore said he was pleased with the agreement.
"We have consensus of the teachers here [at the Hearthstone Manor], and I'm willing to sign off on it pending the approval of teachers in the buildings," he said.
He plans to send out details of the agreement to teachers today, then hold voting in all the schools by the end of next week.
On this vote, unlike ones on previous versions of the evaluation agreement, each teacher's ballot will be counted, and an overall result will be announced, Rumore said. Other votes have been held on a building-by-building basis, with no totals made public. The ultimate decision on past votes rested with the council of delegates, the union's governing body of about 200 teachers.
This time, the decision will be made directly by teachers in the buildings, Rumore said. The council of delegates could decide to vote after that, he said, but he predicted it would be highly unlikely for the council to override the wishes of the rank and file.
State officials were the first to announce the agreement Wednesday, through an afternoon news release that caught district officials by surprise.
"This is a major step forward," King said.
The union and the district still have to reach an evaluation agreement for 2012-13 by July 1 or risk losing millions in improvement grants for several schools.
Rumore said a group of teachers will meet with district officials for four days in the last week in June to work on that agreement.