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A lasting scar for schools; While a hopeful sign, long-delayed pact on teacher evaluations leaves much to do

It is a relief that the Buffalo Teachers Federation has finally approved an agreement on teacher evaluations, but the delay came at a heavy price. We hope the union and school district will conclude the necessary follow-up agreement without undue angst to avoid making even worse that which was already terrible.

But it doesn't look good.

The deal on teacher evaluations was not much different from previous versions that had been rejected by the union's Council of Delegates. But in Tuesday's vote, the program was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of members, though only about a third of those eligible voted.

Creation of a fair evaluation system was crucial for several reasons. Most immediately, the school district was forfeiting millions of dollars in government aid through its inability to hammer out an agreement. That work remains incomplete. While Tuesday's vote freed up $5.6 million in assistance for six schools in 2011-12, another agreement is needed for 2012-13 for schools across the district. The deadline for that agreement is July 1.

But the loss to city schools cut even deeper. The Center for Social Organization at Johns Hopkins University, a renowned organization that had planned to help turn around two of Buffalo's most troubled schools – Lafayette and East high schools – pulled out of an agreement to help the schools next year. With the dispute over teacher evaluations unresolved, it said it couldn't plan for its involvement in the school.

Who can quantify that loss? The good news – and the bad – is that Johns Hopkins left the door wide open to come back in the 2013-14 school year. But who knows what will happen if the district and union fail to agree on the next evaluation plan (union President Philip Rumore is already threatening litigation), or if the chronically dysfunctional relationship between the district and the union otherwise suggests to Johns Hopkins that its efforts are better applied elsewhere?

Rumore and State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. are arguing over whether the next evaluation plan has to comply with the 2010 law or the more in-depth 2012 law.

Under the old law, the classroom observation portion could consist of one observation, which the teacher is told about ahead of time. Under the 2012 law, though – the one that King says must be followed – there must be at least two observations, at least one of which must be unannounced.

For today, maybe it is enough just to be glad that, for whatever reason, the union made the right decision, for the city, the district, the students and even those teachers who care about professional development. But today will be over soon. More issues await and there is no reason to believe things are going to be different.