Sunday, April 27, 2008

St. Mary's School for The Deaf- Update

The teachers union at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in Buffalo has voted “no confidence” in the school’s superintendent, high school principal and Board of Trustees’ executive committee.

Teachers also voted to support opening board meetings to the public and having a staff member and a student attend board meetings.

A union official hailed the vote as a sign of unity among the teachers.

“[Superintendent William P.] Johnson has been saying on the news that it’s only a few people that have a problem with what’s happening, that there’s only a few disgruntled employees. This proves that it’s not just a few people,” said Ron Czech, second vice president of the teachers union.

Forty-one of the union’s 49 members voted last week. The results were announced at a union meeting Monday afternoon, and the union sent certified letters on Wednesday to board members and Johnson, indicating the outcome of the balloting.

“This action was taken with a sense of duty and devotion to the students and the school, and was not motivated by malice toward individuals, but concern regarding administrative decisions,” union officials wrote in the letter to school officials.

Eighty-seven percent of the teachers voted no confidence in Johnson and high school principal Patricia Michalek; and 84 percent voted no confidence in the board’s executive committee, Czech said.

In contrast, 92 percent of the teachers voted in support of elementary principal Patricia Velocci. Ninety-five percent of the teachers favored opening board meetings, and 88 percent would like to see a staff member and student attend the meetings.

Neither Johnson nor Michalek responded to requests to comment.

Johnson’s contract runs through September 2009. However, Johnson or the school can terminate the agreement with no penalty, as long as they provide four months’ written notice.

St. Mary’s has been in turmoil for months, with parents complaining about a series of staff changes they say are taking a toll on the quality of education their children receive. Staff complain of an atmosphere of intimidation and, some say, harassment by Johnson and Michalek.

In response to the parent complaints, the board of trustees in March created a parent advisory group that began meeting last week. Parents met with three board members, who are promising to bring parent concerns to the full board.

Also, after the last board meeting, chairman Joseph S. DePaolo resigned, citing health concerns. The board is expected to meet Monday to elect a new chairman.

Negotiations are continuing with Nettie Brewer, the popular math teacher who was fired in early March. The board at its last meeting voted in favor of reinstating Brewer, and the school made an initial offer. Brewer and the union are working on a counter-offer.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, a member of St. Mary’s board, said his office is still researching issues related to a bill he is considering introducing that would force St. Mary’s School and similar schools around the state to open their meetings to the public.

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