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Alarm again raised over lack of Buffalo teacher evaluation plan

Superintendent Pamela C. Brown on Wednesday renewed her call for Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore to return to the negotiating table to reach an agreement on teacher evaluations.

The district has already lost millions of dollars in various types of aid because of the lack of an evaluation plan, she said, and it stands to lose tens of millions more if a plan is not in place and approved by the state by Jan. 17. The total amount at stake, she said, is $59 million.

“We have lost different amounts of money, and in each case, millions of dollars each time,” she told the School Board. “Two days from now, that amount will be $26 million the district will have lost as a result of not having this [annual professional performance review] plan.”

Later, after the board meeting, Brown said $17 million of that – school improvement grant funds for nine schools – could still be retrieved if the district and the union reach an approved plan by Jan. 17.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo earlier this year said districts must have an approved evaluation plan in place by that date, or they would lose this year’s increase in state aid. For Buffalo, that works out to $33.4 million.

The state Education Department has told school officials across New York that they should submit their plans at least four to six weeks prior to the deadline to allow time for the state to review them and for districts to make any changes that might be necessary.

Brown told the board that if the district loses tens of millions in aid, the district will be forced to lay off hundreds of people midyear.

“Is it possible to use the monies we have set aside to settle the contract to keep those teachers on until the end of the year?” at-large board member Florence Johnson asked, echoing the thoughts of several board members.

The teachers contract expired eight years ago. The district has set aside more than $70 million to cover salary increases once the contract is renegotiated.

Board members agreed to discuss at more length during future meetings the possibility of dipping into those funds to cover aid the district loses if there is no evaluation plan in place by the deadline.

The union’s Council of Delegates voted in late September to suspend evaluation negotiations until the district drops its legal fight over the involuntary transfer of teachers this year from three low-performing schools.

An arbitrator ruled this fall that the transfers violated the contract, and a State Supreme Court justice upheld the ruling. The district is appealing the decision.