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Williams set to stay until end of pact; Board is given plans to turn around schools

Superintendent James A. Williams on Wednesday assured the Board of Education that he plans to remain in Buffalo through the end of his contract, which expires in 2014.

He also announced changes to the district's plans for turning around nine of its low-performing schools. Half the teachers will be moved out of three schools, under current plans, instead of the six schools that were originally proposed.

Board members complain that Williams consistently waits until the last minute to give them information.

Some people -- including board member Mary Ruth Kapsiak and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt -- have recently speculated publicly that Williams has been trying to alienate the board to prompt them to fire him.

If the board terminated his contract, he would be entitled to six months' salary, about $110,000.

"I have never thought of any buyout of any contract. When I leave Buffalo, it will be based on retirement, when I reach that age," Williams said.

"I have no intentions of leaving the work that we still have to do. Now, I'm 67 years old, so one day I'm going to have to retire. But I will assure you, the president of the board will know it first when that day happens. Right now, we have a lot of work to do, a lot of financial things to do."

The district has become the target of considerable criticism in recent weeks, much of it centered around administrators' handling of the school turnaround plans, which must be submitted to the state Education Department by May 9.

Williams has been criticized in public recently, including a suggestion from Hoyt that it's time for the state to take over the district, citing what he says is a lack of leadership from the superintendent and the board.

Board members Wednesday approved a resolution requiring them to approve the turnaround plans before they are submitted to the state. Florence D. Johnson cast the sole dissenting vote.

The district must submit plans by May 9 to be eligible for federal grant funds of up to $2 million per year for three years for each of the nine schools -- for a total of $54 million.

The district earlier in April announced plans to move half the teachers at six schools, and all the teachers at Futures Academy. Those plans were the target of teacher protests in front of City Hall prior to the meeting, as well as an online parent petition objecting to the moves.

Williams told the board Wednesday that the district "is moving slightly away" from the plans to move teachers.

According to a summary of the revised school turnaround plans distributed to board members Wednesday:

*At least half the teachers will be moved out of three schools: Waterfront School 95, Lafayette High School and East High School.

Williams said he believes that fewer than 100 teachers will be moved.

Waterfront will focus on English as a Second Language and French; Lafayette will become an international high school; and East will become an all-male college prep school.

An educational management organization will be hired to oversee each school. That group in each school will screen and hire the staff.

*A much less radical turnaround model will be used at Riverside and Burgard high schools. That means the district has decided not to move half the teachers at those schools.

Burgard will become a "career and technical institute" featuring automotive, welding and computer-aided design programs. Riverside will feature career academies in entrepreneurship, finance and health.

*Four schools will adopt the "restart" model, in which an outside educational partnership organization oversees each school, taking the place of the superintendent in regard to that particular school.

Those schools are: Buffalo Elementary School of Technology School 6; Futures Academy School 37; Dr. Charles Drew Science Magnet School 59; and Bilingual Center School 33. The district has scrapped its plans to make Futures Academy an all-girls school.

Buffalo Elementary School of Technology will focus on science, technology, engineering and math; Futures Academy will be a community school model as part of a grant application; Drew Science Magnet will focus on scientific literacy; and the Bilingual Center will feature a transitional bilingual program.

The district's revised turnaround plans for the nine schools did not satisfy Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore.

"Let me be clear," he told the board. "There are violations of the contract with having teachers be interviewed to keep their position in a school."

Scores of teachers marched with signs in front of City Hall before the board meeting, protesting the district's plans to move many of them.

Rumore said he will refuse to sign the school turnaround plans as long as any of the nine plans call for moving teachers.

The union's opposition to the turnaround plans did not sit well with Samuel L. Radford III, vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, who said the union's position of "no compromise" was unacceptable to parents.

Radford also complained about the district's lack of transparency in developing the turnaround plans. The parent group has been asking to be involved in developing the plans, and the district still has not asked for their input, he said. The focus for the plans, he said, should be on the students.

"We're having the same conversation: What do the adults want? The adults have still not got the point," Radford said.

Board President Ralph R. Hernandez said after the meeting that he plans to ask Oishei Foundation President Robert D. Gioia to convene a meeting in the next few days with Senior Deputy Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., board members, district administrators, union leaders and parents to hash out turnaround plans everyone can agree upon.

Hernandez said the board probably will vote on the turnaround plans next week.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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