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Failure of talks on receivership schools will open the door to state takeover

It is difficult to imagine trying to run any business with both hands tied behind your back, essentially what happens when the leader of the Buffalo Public Schools is unable to decide which teachers are assigned where.

Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash has communicated that he wants more control over who works at the district’s receivership schools, including the ability to assign teachers based on qualifications instead of seniority.

The Buffalo School District is in crisis mode. Cash, after a few failed attempts by long-gone superintendents, is here to turn things around. He should be allowed the tools to do his job and without meeting the typical intransigence that has gotten the district into an underperforming educational situation and kept it there for decades.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore should come to the table and negotiate. No more delay. Too much time has already passed. Students who were unfairly wrapped up in a variety of adult dysfunction are now adults, themselves. This can’t go on.

Luckily, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who recommended Cash, isn’t putting up with excuses. Even more fortunate is the fact that her predecessor, John B. King Jr., was recently appointed by President Obama as acting secretary of education. King, when he was state education commissioner, was vocal about his dissatisfaction with and intolerance for the state of Buffalo Public Schools.

There is a laser focus on the Buffalo School District at both the state and national levels. Rumore, who has shown little interest in education reform, should take note.

He should also show a willingness to negotiate on the matter of teacher placement. The current practice that gives preference to teachers with the most years in the system isn’t working for the new school leader. Better to have a discussion now about teacher seniority rights than to have to flex the state’s new law governing schools in receivership.

Under this new model, Cash can make changes at those schools without approval from the School Board or the Buffalo Teachers Federation. But first he must attempt negotiation with the union, and by all indications, he has reached out.

In addition to the ability to place teachers where they might be most effective, Cash wants the ability to expand the school day or year, require teachers to participate in professional development and training and to use technological tools to improve student achievement.

These are not unreasonable wishes by the superintendent. Now the hard part. Board member Barbara A. Seals Nevergold has already written in an email to Cash: “We are still a stakeholder in the District.” Got it. BTF President Rumore has already made a vow, of sorts, that he and New York State United Teachers will challenge the law, and he backed up that promise in a memo to teachers.

Meanwhile, Elia is waiting in the wings if the district cannot turn around its struggling schools. Cash is on a deadline to achieve results before Elia acts to place the schools with an outside entity, a result no one should want.

It is time for both sides to roll up their sleeves and get busy on fixing a broken system. Let’s not wait for the state to do it for us.