The battle lines are drawn between the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board and the state Education Department over the board’s threat to boycott testing and teacher evaluations.
In a letter to School Board President Bob Dana dated Thursday, Ken Wagner, senior deputy commissioner for education policy, reminded Dana that such actions would be in violation of law and regulation.
“I expect that you and the other members of your board will comply with the law, as it is your sworn duty to do so as members of a Board of Education, and administer the grade 3-8 assessments,” Wagner wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Buffalo News. “Such assessments are required under federal law and under the state’s accountability system in the commissioner’s regulations.”
Thursday’s letter was the first response by state education officials to the board’s unanimous decision Tuesday to “seriously consider” refusing to administer the required state assessments and refusing to use such assessments in annual professional performance reviews of teachers.
The board is demanding an end to the use of testing data as part of teacher evaluations and the creation of “one fair, equitable, and efficient teacher and administrator evaluation system.” It also wants Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to release state aid information, creation of “a fair and equitable state aid funding formula” and an end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which has led to a loss of nearly $40 million in state aid to Ken-Ton over five years.
Dana said he was not surprised by anything in Wagner’s letter.
“I didn’t see anything in there that we haven’t shared with the community in terms of what the ramifications could be,” Dana said Thursday. “He addressed them specifically and he seems to have a good grasp of what’s going on. Obviously, it would seem that they mean business. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
Wagner goes on to write: “Failure to comply with the assessment requirement would also be detrimental to the taxpayers and the students of the school district.”
The district could lose out on Title I, Part A federal funds, which this school year totaled about $1.1 million. It could also lose state aid increases linked to compliance with the teacher-evaluation requirements, he said.
Wagner also reminded Dana about another possible consequence of a boycott.
“Thus far, your board has simply declared that you are considering the possibility of violating these various laws and regulations,” Wagner wrote. “If, however, your board takes action to carry out its resolution and violate law and regulation, the members of the board responsible will be subject to removal from office by the commissioner of education pursuant to Education Law for willful violation of law, the rules of the Board of Regents and the regulations of the commissioner.”
Meanwhile, the School Board announced Thursday it will hold a special meeting April 8 to discuss how to proceed. State testing at the elementary/intermediate level begins April 14, with the third- through eighth-grade English Language Arts assessments.
“I’m worried,” Dana said. “I’m really worried about the state of public education in this state and the fact that they squelch anyone that tries to stand up against them. That’s where I have a problem.”