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Vote on 3 schools' plans delayed 3 weeks

The Buffalo Board of Education on Wednesday decided to wait three weeks before voting on alternative plans for Lafayette High School and two other schools.

If the district does not submit an acceptable plan for Lafayette by July 1, state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. will recommend that the school close, he has said.

Last week, the board called a special meeting for Wednesday to decide on the alternative plans -- but Wednesday, it decided to vote on those plans June 6 instead.

"I don't want to characterize it as waiting. The general feeling of the board was that they wanted time to review and to tweak the plans that were presented in November," board President Louis J. Petrucci said.

He acknowledged that the district is "cutting it close" to the July 1 deadline but said that district officials have been working closely with King and his staff "to modify the [school-improvement] model based on a suggestion that came from his office."

Funding for the plans the district submitted in December for Lafayette and East high schools and Buffalo Elementary School of Technology is contingent on the district and the teachers union submitting by July 1 a signed teacher-evaluation plan for 2012-13 for the entire district.

The state has approved plans for those schools that involve hiring outside groups to run them in 2012-13 -- but Johns Hopkins University, which had been chosen to run Lafayette and East high schools, withdrew as a partner more than two weeks ago.

Last fall, the principal of each school coordinated creation of a turnaround plan that involves moving half the teachers in each building. But the board decided instead to submit plans to the state that involved hiring outside groups to run the schools.

At exactly the same time Wednesday that the board was discussing the school plans, King was holding a news conference at Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services in West Seneca reiterating his call for the Buffalo Teachers Federation to sign a teacher-evaluation agreement.

"[Interim Superintendent] Amber Dixon has put forward an agreement that is consistent with the law," King said. "The BTF has not yet articulated what precisely about the agreement they object to."

The agreement King referred to is required for the district to reclaim $5.6 million for six other low-performing schools in 2011-12.

Robert M. Bennett, a member of the state Board of Regents, joined King on Wednesday in calling for the union to sign the agreement.

"There is no question we have to have a teacher-evaluation system in place," Bennett said. "It's the law."

King and Bennett emphasized that in the most recent version of the evaluation plan, the student attendance issue was resolved by creating different targets for student growth in schools with severe attendance problems.

"The attendance issue is being used as a distraction," King said.

BTF President Philip Rumore and district officials have scheduled four dates in the next two weeks for committees of teachers and administrators to work on an evaluation plan. Rumore has said he believes that the two sides can reach an agreement by the July 1 deadline, and possibly even by June 1.