Buffalo's classrooms won't open until Sept. 10 next school year because Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore reneged on a promise to help arrange a pre-Labor Day opening, School Superintendent James A. Williams charged Tuesday.
"To start school Sept. 10 is totally ridiculous," Williams said. "He [Rumore] is just a stubborn person who doesn't care about the children in this community."
Rumore said he never promised to craft an agreement for an early start to the school year and passed Williams' proposal for an Aug. 28 start on to the BTF's Council of Delegates without recommendation.
The council unanimously rejected the proposal last week at a meeting attended by at least 150 delegates, Rumore said. The teachers' vote, he added, reflected "their anger and frustration" with Williams over other contractual issues.
The Sept. 10 opening results from a provision in the BTF contract that limits the school year to 42 consecutive weeks. Schools will be session until June 26, 2008, to accommodate later-than-usual Regents exams. As a result, classes will begin a full week after Labor Day.
Buffalo schools traditionally start a day or two after Labor Day.
Williams, who is pushing for a longer school day and school year, sought an agreement with the union to have teachers report for staff development sessions on Aug. 28-30 and spend Sept. 4 -- the day after Labor Day -- setting up their rooms. Instruction would begin Sept. 5. Days off would be added during the school year to maintain the same number of work days for teachers.
Williams, who will discuss his options with the Board of Education at a meeting this evening, claims Rumore agreed to help arrange an early start in a meeting more than a year ago.
"I said: 'Phil, we have to do that,' " Williams said. "He said: 'Mr. Superintendent, we will get it done.' "
Rumore said he agreed to discuss the proposal but not to make it happen.
"I never, ever agreed to start the school year two weeks early," Rumore said. "It was completely up to the teachers to make that decision."
Rumore said he and the union's executive committee decided to pass Williams' proposal on to the larger Council of Delegates without recommendation. "We were completely neutral," he said. "We didn't interfere in any way."
Rumore effectively killed the proposal by not actively supporting it, Williams said.
"He can deliver anything he wants to deliver," Williams said. "That [neutrality] is the excuse he uses when he doesn't want to do anything."
Rumore said teachers are angry that Williams unilaterally imposed single-carrier health insurance on union members, then asked them to do him a favor by waiving the provision of the contract dealing with the length of the school year.
"I was really surprised by the unanimous vote," Rumore said. "I don't think the superintendent understands the depth of the anger."
Williams said the latest dispute underlines the excessive power of unions in local public policy. "This community is so backward, so antiquated about these union issues that it's disgraceful," he said.