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Arbitrator says Buffalo Schools broke rules with planned transfer

An arbitrator has determined that the Buffalo Public Schools' plan to move a total of 54 teachers at three schools violates the union contract.

The district had submitted turnaround plans that called for moving teachers at Drew Science Magnet, Futures Academy and Bilingual Center 33, all considered by the state to be persistently lowest achieving schools.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore has consistently referred to the federal school improvement model that requires moving half the staff as the "50 percent stupid solution."

"We warned the district back in December this was a violation of the contract. [The arbitrator's finding is] not a surprise to us," he said. "The district has other options. We look forward to a model that will help teachers teach and students learn, not just the mass movement of half the teachers, regardless of whether they're doing a good job or not."

Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said she plans to have discussions with Rumore before deciding how to proceed. District officials are deciding whether to appeal the decision, she said.

"We are disappointed to receive the adverse decision from the arbitrator," she said. "We thought [the turnaround plans] were in the best interest of the children. We have a commitment to doing everything in our power to turn these schools around."

Arbitrator Jacquelin F. Drucker noted in her 15-page ruling that the district made a commitment to work with the union to address its concerns with the turnaround model.

"The record indicates, however, that although the union expressed opposition early on to the turnaround model, and specifically to the plan for involuntary transfers, there was no discussion or negotiation with the union regarding the issues that [violated the contract]," Drucker wrote.

While the district is not necessarily barred from involuntarily transferring teachers, she wrote, the contract does require the district to take into account the preferences of the teachers being transferred, and that did not happen.

The process the district used to screen teachers also violated the contract, the arbitrator ruled. Only certified staff are to evaluate teachers, according to the contract.

At Drew Science Magnet, the screening panel included a grandparent and a Buffalo Museum of Science employee. The Bilingual Center's panel included a parent, a Fredonia State College employee and a Valley Community Center employee. And the Futures Academy panel included a University at Buffalo student and a parent, according to the arbitrator's ruling.

In addition, the screening process should have been approved by the district's Professional Council, according to the contract, and it was not, the arbitrator ruled.

The arbitrator "directs that the district cease and desist from proceeding with the turnaround-related involuntary transfer of teachers."
The arbitrator's decision, released Thursday morning, means that the district will need to come up with new school improvement plans for three schools if it wants to salvage $5.1 million in federal funds.

That leaves the district with only one viable option for the three schools: hire an outside group to run each of the schools.

That is the model the district selected for three other schools this year. Buffalo received $5.3 million for 2012-13 to hire Johns Hopkins University to run Lafayette and East high schools, and Research to Practice to run Buffalo Elementary School of Technology.

The district and the union are due in court on this matter this morning before State Supreme Court Justice Gerald J. Whalen.