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Ken-Ton board votes to consider boycott of testing, teacher evaluations

In an act of open defiance toward Albany and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s education reform agenda, the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to “seriously consider” boycotting teacher evaluations and standardized testing in the district.

“We’ve said now we’re going forward,” School Board President Bob Dana told The Buffalo News after a community forum. “We’re not playing games anymore. We’re going forward and we’ll have to see what we can do to make this happen.”

The ramifications of Tuesday’s unprecedented vote are unclear but could include withholding of about $50 million in state aid for the district, removal of the School Board and loss of certification for any teacher who refuses to administer tests.

Dana informed the crowd of about 300 in Kenmore West High School that he had been told the state Department of Education was prepared to remove the School Board if the resolutions went forward.“There are those that would like to see this not happen, who have the power to make it difficult,” Dana said. “We’ll have to see what’s going to happen.”

Specifically, the proposals call for the district to consider eliminating use of test results in determining teacher evaluations and boycotting standardized testing in grades 3-8 until Cuomo releases projections of school financial aid, among other demands.

Testing is scheduled to begin April 14; Dana said the board will meet before then to discuss how to proceed.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Dawn Mirand on Tuesday reiterated her opposition to the proposals, which were sponsored by Dana and initially presented at the board’s regular meeting.

“As a district we are required to follow the commissioner’s regulations as well as legislative requirements,” Mirand said in a statement she read aloud. “Not following both law and regulation will put our students and district at risk for sanctions and will not be in our community’s best interest.”

The district’s administrators’ union also came out against the proposals while its teachers’ union expressed support. “The time is now for the board to stand up and courageously do what you’re willing to do,” said Kenmore Teachers Association President Peter Stuhlmiller.Many of the teachers, residents and parents used fiery rhetoric about civil disobedience and rebellion to criticize Cuomo and state education officials.

“When I went to school, teachers and principals were the utmost authority and we respected them,” resident Beverly MacKenzie said. “Now, teachers are disrespected, told what to teach and how to do it.”

The only public criticism of Dana’s proposals came when anonymous written comments were read aloud. “Nobody will speak on this publicly because it’s not the loudest opinion but it’s time we tell our kids to take the test,” one comment read. “You need SATs for college, a test to drive. Enough is enough. Tell your kids to try their best and not to stress. The children are stressed because of the adults in the room.”

In an unofficial straw poll, the audience voted by ballot, 281-22, in favor of the proposals, which Dana said was key. “We wouldn’t have done it had the community not supported it,” he said.

He also called on other school districts in the state to consider taking the same action. “This is uncharted territory,” he said, “and there is strength in numbers.”