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Teachers' union going to court to defend evaluation 'side deal'

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Governor Cuomo and the State Education Department are saying a side deal between the Buffalo school district and the Buffalo Teachers Federation regarding teacher evaluations is illegal and should be blocked. The union is going to court to uphold the deal.When the board and the union agreed on a system for evaluating teachers and filed it with Albany, that triggered tens of millions of dollars for the financially-strapped district.

The two sides also agreed on a side letter or memorandum of understanding that there would be a two-year grace period. That means a teacher can't be fired for bad ratings last year or this year.

BTF President Phil Rumore says the district can't back away from the deal.

"[We are] filing a notice of appeal to go to court to enforce the MOU that the BTF entered into with the district, as did between 50 and 100 other school districts in the state. We've also filed grievances on various aspects of it. Also, we will be working with our state affiliate to prevent the district from losing any funding," Rumore said Thursday.

Rumore says the ratings, so far, show the union was right that it's a bad system that isn't working. Around 60 percent of the evaluation is based on a principal watching a teacher in the classroom. Rumore says around 20 percent of the rating is based on state test scores and that is dropping a significant number of teachers from 'effective' to 'ineffective.'

"We're going to take a look at whether we're going to vote to invalidate the agreement. That's going to be a last resort for us. We'll first pursue the legal and the contractual issues. Then, if necessary, we'll possibly have a vote to rescind our agreement," Rumore told WBFO News.

Education Commissioner King is already saying test scores statewide are likely to drop 30 percent this year under a new test system, dragging down teacher rankings.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.