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54 teachers ?lack posts? after ruling ?on transfers Buffalo eyes appeal ?of arbitrator's decision

Buffalo teachers report to their first day of work on Tuesday – but 54 of them still don't know which school they are supposed to report to.

They are the teachers who the district decided to transfer, against their wishes, from three low-performing schools as part of turnaround plans for this year.

An arbitrator Wednesday agreed with the union that the transfers violated the contract and ordered the district not to move the teachers. When asked Friday which school each of the 54 teachers is to report to Tuesday – the school the teacher worked at in 2011-12, or the one the teacher had been told to transfer to – a district spokeswoman declined to give a definitive answer.

"We'll have a decision on how to proceed when we receive guidance from [the state Education Department] and review our options with legal counsel," district spokeswoman Elena B. Cala said in an email Friday.

Superintendent Pamela C. Brown has not yet decided whether to appeal the arbitrator's decision.

"We have not made any changes to what our plan was," she said Wednesday evening. "An appeal is something we are considering at this time."

Apparently, at the close of business on Friday, she was still considering it.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore is feeling a sense of urgency to resolve the matter. Teachers report to work on Tuesday; students' first day of school is Wednesday.

"I want to stop this from happening," he said. "I don't want to wait until they're in the buildings. I don't want these teachers moving all over the place."

Rumore said he asked the president of New York State United Teachers to file legal papers Friday seeking an injunction blocking the district from moving the teachers. The statewide organization declined.

A spokesman said that NYSUT will vigorously pursue the case, even if it's not on the timetable Rumore would like to see.

"Be assured that NYSUT is pursuing the best legal strategy on behalf of Buffalo's teachers," spokesman Carl Korn said.

Rumore said that because NYSUT would not try to get an 11th-hour injunction, he decided to hire an outside attorney, Catherine Creighton, to do so. He met with her late Friday afternoon.

"Teachers are in a bind," Rumore said. "We don't know whether the district is going to honor the arbitration decision. Teachers are sitting on pins and needles wondering what they should be doing."

It seems that Wednesday evening is the soonest that district officials are likely to make a decision. School Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak has called a special meeting for 4 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the options.

There do not seem to be many options to choose from.

The transfers were a federally mandated aspect of the turnaround model the district chose in December for three schools: Drew Science Magnet 59, Futures Academy and Bilingual Center 33.

The state approved the plans in May, clearing the way for more than $5 million in federal school improvement funds to flow to the three buildings this year.

To get the federal money, the schools must adopt one of the four federal models for school improvement. But the district has already exhausted the number of times it is allowed to use the "transformation" model. And another option – closing the schools – does not seem to be viable, because the district would have to find places for the 1,400 students enrolled in the three schools.

The third option, turnaround, requires moving half the staff, which the arbitrator determined violated the union contract.

Unless the district appeals that decision, the only remaining option for the three schools is hiring an outside group to run each school. That is a process that would likely take several months from start to finish, based on how the process has played out in the district for other schools.

Does that mean students in those schools will spend an extra year without the benefit of those federal funds?

"We are definitely hoping the children will have access to those resources," Brown said Wednesday, adding that she hoped to have discussions with Rumore that would lead to resolving the situation, although she did not specify how.

For Buffalo's new superintendent, after a relatively quiet first several weeks on the job, the teacher transfer issue represents the most high-profile decision she has had to make, and her first public tangle with the union.

She has made a point of describing her approach with the union as one of collaboration – a calculated change of course from her predecessor, James A. Williams. This far into Williams' tenure as superintendent, he called union president Philip Rumore a liar and threatened to kick him in a designated part of his anatomy.

Threats of bodily injury aside, there was never much question over where Williams stood on an issue. Brown, on the other hand, seems comfortable biding her time before making a decision.

But Rumore has wasted no time putting the pressure on Brown.

"I'm hoping the superintendent will not start her superintendency off by turning her back on an arbitration decision that will anger teachers not just from the three schools, but throughout the district," he said.