New teachers trying to get jobs in the Buffalo school system will no longer have to go through an additional rigorous testing process, under legislation given final approval this week at the state Capitol.
School officials hailed the measure as a way to streamline hiring to be competitive with suburban school districts. Those district can make job offers more quickly because new teachers don't have to go through the extra testing hurdles state law now requires in Buffalo.
"I am thrilled," said Buffalo School Superintendent Marion Canedo.
But Buffalo teachers union officials condemned the change, saying it will lower the quality of teachers coming into the district and encourage favoritism by school officials and politicians, who will be able to more easily hire friends and relatives.
"It's a big mistake," said Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore. He said the additional testing requirements were crafted to ensure the district is able to get teachers qualified to work in an urban district with mostly poor children.
"They've lowered the standards for Buffalo teachers -- and this opens the door to favoritism and nepotism," he said.
Canedo dismissed Rumore's concerns, insisting school districts across New York have managed to hire teachers with less complex testing requirements and without charges of favoritism. She said the legislation will allow the district to decentralize hiring decisions, allowing principals of individual schools, for instance, to get involved in interviewing prospective teachers for specialty subjects.
The legislation, if signed as expected by Gov. George E. Pataki, will end years of the Buffalo schools' being the only major district in the state to offer separate oral and written tests to all applicants.
Sponsored by Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve, D-Buffalo, and State Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, the measure makes Buffalo conform with other city and suburban school districts across the state when it comes to hiring procedures. In all other districts, applicants take a state test, which officials use as an initial guide for hiring, and go through other steps that vary from district to district.
But in Buffalo now, teachers take the state test, then have to go through an additional round of written and oral exams administered by the city schools. Besides being expensive because the tests have to be devised, administered and graded by the district, it also sharply slows the hiring process. Once an applicant gets through the testing process, his or her name is then placed on a hiring list. The district must then hire off that list, in order of the applicant's performance on the tests.
School officials say the whole process has become too unwieldy, and applicants must wait months before knowing whether they will have a job in the fall. By then, officials say, they are grabbed up by other districts in the region or even out-of-state schools that are desperate to find new teachers.
The testing procedure has been in effect since 1968. Unlike when the state law authorizing the additional testing took effect, Buffalo schools no longer have the luxury of luring teachers away from other districts. Now the reverse is true: New teachers head to better-paying suburban districts, where facilities are better and problems fewer.
The district only last month finished going through its testing and ranking system as part of a process that included the interviews of some 1,500 applicants. It was a process that began before Christmas and will result in the hiring of a couple of hundred new teachers.
"This really restrained us from going out for recruitment. We could never say to the candidate: "Wow, you have great credentials. We can hire you,' " Canedo said. Instead, applicants would be told they'd have to go through the lengthy testing process and then wait as the school went through the hiring list. "People couldn't wait until August to find out if they had a teaching position with us," Canedo said.
The superintendent said the situation was brought close to home when many graduates of Buffalo State College, which has one of the state's premier teaching programs, would not even consider teaching in Buffalo because of the roadblocks put up in the hiring system. She said the situation also hurt teachers hired on a temporary basis who, after a year, wanted to get a permanent position. Even if they scored well in their classroom teaching, they had to go through the testing process all over again.