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School accord reached on evaluation process

The district and two of its main collective-bargaining units have reached an agreement on a process for evaluating teachers and principals at persistently low-achieving schools in the district, interim School Superintendent Amber Dixon announced during Wednesday's Board of Education meeting.

As a result, those schools won't lose out on the opportunity to qualify for state-administered federal funds set aside for such schools in the district.

If a signed agreement had not been forwarded to the state Education Department by Saturday, Dixon said, state Education Commissioner John King recently told her that the state planned to withhold improvement funds from those schools.

"I'm just happy to report that being emailed to the state Education Department right now is, in fact, the signatures of [Buffalo Teachers Federation President] Phil Rumore, [Buffalo Council of School Administrators President] Crystal Barton and myself on memorandums of understanding about [a new teacher and principal evaluation system]," Dixon said.

Dixon said a process for evaluating teachers and administrators at persistently low-achieving schools in the district has been in place since September.

"So we've been reaching agreement, but we did take this Dec. 31 deadline [urgently]. We had heard first of the Dec. 31 deadline about three weeks ago. At that point, we just ramped up our conversations with the bargaining units. [On Wednesday], the district was closed, but, you know, we had been planning to wrap it up this week anyway," she said.

Rumore, reached after Wednesday's special board meeting, stressed that the signed agreement does not specifically address whether the district can move teachers at the low-achieving schools from their buildings without their consent. He said it addresses a process for evaluating teachers at the schools.

"We sat down with the district and agreed on a process, but we haven't agreed on an exact way that student performance is going to be included in the teacher evaluation," Rumore said.

"The thing that's going to make it difficult is student absenteeism. How can you judge teacher performance based on student test scores when the student is absent seven weeks out of the year, like many of our high school students are?" he added.

Rumore said 38 percent of high school students in the district are absent seven or more weeks over the course of the school year.

"Another issue we're going to have to deal with is English language learners who are required to take the exams but who speak very little English," Rumore said.

At schools such as Lafayette High School, School 45 and School 33, as many as 35 percent of the students have been identified as English language learners, he said.

Meanwhile, West District School Board member Ralph Hernandez said Wednesday the agreement was a step in the right direction.

"I think it's great news that the bargaining units are taking this whole process seriously in that you're able to speak to them and come up with some kind of solution," Hernandez said.

The School Board didn't file applications for four of the persistently low-achieving schools this year, and it rejected three other applications. Left on the table was as much as $14 million for this school year.