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District moves ahead on alternative plans for 3 schools

Buffalo school district administrators are moving forward with alternative plans for three schools because the continuing impasse over teacher evaluations threatens to block funding for existing plans for those schools.

The state last week approved plans for the district to hire Johns Hopkins University to run East and Lafayette high schools, and to hire Research to Practice Group to run Buffalo Elementary School of Technology in 2012-13.

But that approval is contingent on the district and the Buffalo Teachers Federation submitting by July 1 a signed teacher-evaluation agreement that meets state requirements. Johns Hopkins gave the district until May 1 to resolve the evaluation impasse; Dixon has asked the school to reconsider.

The alternative turnaround plans would require moving half the teachers in each school -- but they do not require the district to have a teacher-evaluation plan.

Many board members Wednesday expressed frustration with the union.

"At what point can the board sue the BTF?" said at-large board member Florence D. Johnson. "I don't get it. Children are just languishing and not getting what they need. We have to defend these children."

Interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon said she is reopening negotiations with union President Philip Rumore to discuss teacher evaluations. But some board members told her not to waste time on something they said is unlikely to yield results.

"As far as spending additional time to renegotiate things, I think we need to get busy moving things forward," said Sharon Belton-Cottman, who represents the Ferry District.

At some point, the district and the union must resolve the evaluation issue, Dixon told the board. The district will not get a second year of funding for six other low-performing schools unless a teacher-evaluation plan for 2012-13 is signed and submitted by July 1, she said.

Buffalo stands to lose more than $30 million in state aid if an agreement is not in place by mid-January 2013.

And it's likely that 15 more city schools will be identified next year on the state's most severe warning list, she said.

"This district is in crisis if this occurs," Dixon said. "That will make 28 of our [59] schools involved in a turnaround."

Dixon told the School Board that state Education Department officials have said they would fast-track review of alternative plans for the three schools if the district submits them soon.

She asked the board to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday to consider turnaround plans for the three schools that would include provisions for moving half the teachers at each school. If the board approves those plans, the district would submit them to Albany by May 18, she said.

"If we wait much longer, we would be in jeopardy of not having an approved plan," Dixon said.

State officials said they would issue a decision on the plans within two weeks of receiving them, Dixon said. The board voted unanimously to meet next week to consider the plans.