Anger over next year's late start for Buffalo schools boiled over Wednesday night, with Board of Education members blasting Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore, and Superintendent James A. Williams comparing the union chief to former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
Despite the criticism, the union's decision not to accept an Aug. 28 starting date leaves school officials with no choice but to delay the opening of classes until Sept. 10.
"We will be the laughingstock of Erie County," said board President Florence Johnson. "No school district opens more than a day or so after Labor Day."
Meanwhile, the stormy relationship between Williams and Rumore hit a new low when the superintendent compared the BTF president to the late Amin, who was responsible for tens of thousands of abductions, tortures and murders while president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979.
Rumore said Williams called him Wednesday morning to complain about the union's decision on the school starting date and said: "You are a liar. And besides that, you're a damned liar. In fact, you're worse than Idi Amin."
Williams later confirmed the Amin reference.
"He keeps running from the issues," Williams said of Rumore. "He's a liar. He will not stand up. This community should be fed up with this stuff."
Rumore called the Amin reference a "disgusting insult," not only to him but to union members, and said it underlines why the union has difficulty working with Williams.
"He's called me a snake, he's called me a liar, he's threatened to kick my . . . and now he's equating me with Idi Amin," Rumore said. "Where does it end?"
The latest clash arose from the BTF Council of Delegates' recent rejection of Williams' proposal to have teachers report for staff development sessions Aug. 28-30 and begin instruction Sept. 5.
Williams needed union consent because the BTF contract limits the school year to 42 consecutive weeks. Since school will be in session until June 26, 2008, to accommodate Regents exams, classes will not begin until Sept. 10, a week after Labor Day.
Williams claimed Rumore promised more than a year ago to strike a deal on an early start to the school year. Rumore said he promised to consider the proposal but not to make it happen. Extra days off would have been added during the school year to maintain the same number of overall workdays for teachers.
"It's sad that every time we try to do something positive for kids, we hit a wall," said Park District board member Jack Coyle. "And that wall is Phil Rumore. I don't expect kids to be the first thing on his list. But you know what? I expected them to be in the top 10."
North District board member Donald Van Every said he was told by someone who was present for the Council of Delegates vote last week that the union leadership recommended against the longer school year, despite Rumore's contention that he and other BTF officers remained neutral and let the council decide.
Rumore said more than 150 members of the Council of Delegates unanimously rejected the proposal, reflecting their anger over stalled contract negotiations and Williams' decision to unilaterally impose single-carrier health insurance.
"Van Every can say whatever he wants, but it's simply not true," Rumore said. "The teachers have been pushed too far."