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Battles over teacher evaluations rage on; Peoples-Stokes suggests a state takeover of schools if district loses grant money

If the Buffalo Public School District loses millions in state grants because its teachers union fails to ratify a proposed evaluation system, an influential state lawmaker says New York State should take over the district.

Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes Saturday suggested the state takeover for the first time, and said it should be imposed if an evaluation system adopted by virtually every other teachers union in the state cannot be negotiated.

"It is very disconcerting to be at the point where we have adults who say they are not going to follow the rules," the Democratic assemblywoman from Buffalo said during a news conference at Gateway Longview Center on East Ferry Street. "When a law is created, everyone has to follow it."

She also called for an acceptable agreement to be reached.

"If not, then the state should take over the school district," she said. "I don't know what else to do."

The assemblywoman suggested the state takeover possibility as a group of community leaders called for a mass demonstration against the Buffalo Teachers Federation on Monday evening to protest the union's refusal to ratify the teacher evaluation system.

She was joined by several other leaders of the District Parent Coordinating Council as well as clergymen and Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith to call for the protest outside BTF headquarters at 271 Porter Ave., beginning at 5:30 p.m. They want the community to demand that union leaders resume negotiations with the Board of Education and interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon aimed at adopting an acceptable teacher evaluation system.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said Saturday night that "constructive" suggestions would better serve the situation.

"It would be better if parents, teachers, students and administrators took over the Department of Education," he said, "because at least we would have people who really know what's going on in the schools as opposed to people who have no clue."

Rumore also said he spoke with the superintendent on Friday about continuing to discuss the situation. He noted the union has approved three separate evaluation agreements in recent months, only to have them vetoed by the state.

"We are willing to go forward if the state gives us a reasonable amount of time to do the job," he said. "I'm beginning to believe nothing we do will pass muster with them."

Over the past several months and once again on Thursday, teachers have rejected a proposal for evaluation. Samuel L. Radford III, president of the parent council, called the Saturday news conference to encourage a large turnout at the Monday protest. He said the teachers union should return to the negotiating table and not leave until an agreement is reached.

"We're right on the doorstep of the greatest opportunity a public school system can have and status quo will effectively hamper our efforts," he said. "We're asking the BTF to reconsider its position and come back to negotiations."

Radford was referring to a Johns Hopkins University program to aid two Buffalo high schools that could be rescinded if an agreement is not reached. Also at stake is $5.6 million in school improvement grants for the current school year at six schools. If the plan is not approved by the state or by the union, more than 50 teachers could receive layoff notices.

Smith also urged participation in the Monday protest, pointing to millions of dollars in potential state grants at jeopardy only because of the union position.

"This is ridiculous," he said.

And attorney Anthony L. Pendergrass said the protest will highlight not a "request" from the community that the situation be resolved, but a "demand."

"All we are demanding is that the Buffalo Teachers Federation, the Board of Education and the superintendent give our children the opportunity to reach full potential," he said. "We're not asking nicely any more that the Buffalo Teachers Federation submit to teacher evaluation, we're demanding."

Speaker Bryon J. McIntyre said the protest will send a message to the teachers union.

"If the teachers federation does not sign off on this, we're going to have a disaster in this community," he said. "Let the teachers federation know we are not going to allow things to remain the same."