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In letter to King, local NAACP leader backs BTF on teacher evaluations

The Buffalo teachers union this week picked up the support of the leader of the local NAACP, who criticized state officials' stance on teacher evaluations, saying they are trying to "destroy the Buffalo Public Schools, the morale of Buffalo teachers and the Buffalo Teachers Federation."

But, at the same time, the leader of the city's parent group is launching a fast and soon will begin daily prayer sessions and protests outside the union's offices until an agreement is reached on teacher evaluations.

Frank B. Mesiah, president of the Buffalo area NAACP, has sent a letter to state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., criticizing him for requiring that all students' performance be counted toward a teacher's evaluation.

In the letter, Mesiah asks whether it's true that the results of all students must be counted, even if a significant number of students in a class have missed seven or more weeks of school. King has said all students must be counted.

"It seems the [state Education Department] is saying it has a flawed evaluation model that punishes teachers for failing to teach students who are regularly absent from class; and it is the intended goal of the state Education Department to destroy the Buffalo Public Schools, the morale of the Buffalo teachers and the Buffalo Teachers Federation," Mesiah wrote.

BTF President Philip Rumore several weeks ago signed an evaluation agreement -- contingent on the approval of the union's Council of Delegates -- that counted all students but made allowances for teachers in buildings with severe student absenteeism. The Council of Delegates never voted on that plan, as the state rejected it just hours before the scheduled vote. State officials have since said they would approve the plan, with modifications.

Mesiah says in his letter that he wrote it not only as president of the local NAACP, but as a former teacher.

He questions the logic of holding teachers accountable for students who miss several weeks of school.

"How in good conscience can school funding be denied our children when that funding is based on such a flawed evaluation design?" he wrote.

Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said Mesiah is "unfortunately misinformed" about teacher evaluations.

"For Frank Mesiah to come in this late in the process and not offer a meaningful solution as to how we solve this, I don't think is helpful," Radford said.

The parent leader said he will begin a fast today that he plans to continue until the union and the district sign an evaluation agreement that the state will approve. Radford is going to ask local churches to join in the fast.

Also, the District Parent Coordinating Council on Monday will begin daily protests and prayer sessions at the BTF headquarters on Porter Avenue until the union signs an evaluation agreement, he said.

"Once they act, then we'll go over to the state Education Department until they act," Radford said.

Rumore said he did not think protests by the parent group will be constructive.

"Those kinds of things are not going to help the process," he said. "It's not the BTF that's holding things up. The BTF has put hundreds of hours into this. I don't know what more [Radford] expects the BTF to do. Maybe he should sit down in front of the commissioner's office and demand that he release the money."

Rumore said Friday that he and district officials have scheduled four day-long meetings at the Hearthstone Manor -- May 23, 24, 30 and 31 -- to reach an agreement on evaluations. Twenty-five teachers will be among those who meet with district officials, he said. The union's representative from each of 13 low-performing schools -- those most immediately affected by the evaluations -- will be at the sessions, he said.

If the issue can't be resolved by the end of May, three dates in early June have been set aside for additional meetings.

Rumore said the priority will be reaching an agreement on evaluations for teachers at six low-performing schools for 2011-12 -- which could restore $5.6 million in aid. The group also will lay the foundation for an agreement for 2012-13, he said. Buffalo has until July 1 to reach an agreement for the next school year; if it does not, the district stands to lose about $13 million next year in federal grants.

And if an agreement is not in place by January, the district will lose tens of millions more in various types of state and federal aid.

"We'll get there," Rumore said. "We're hopeful we can get it done definitely before July 1, but hopefully sometime in the beginning of June."