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Plan seeks to reinstate laid-off teachers School Board members hope for vote today

Two Buffalo Board of Education members plan to introduce a measure today that would reinstate the 104 teachers who got pink slips earlier this month.

Ralph R. Hernandez and Mary Ruth Kapsiak say the district needs to find the money to restore positions that have a direct bearing on classrooms, noting that 13 of the city's schools -- about one-fourth -- have been designated by the state as persistently lowest-achieving.

The board members would pay for the job restorations, in part, by trimming the central office staff that has expanded under Superintendent James A. Williams, who is slated to meet with the board today as it considers an effort to terminate his contract.

Williams' proposal to lay off teachers after increasing the number of administrators is just one factor mentioned by the majority of board members who voted last week to start termination proceedings.

"It's very critical how these classrooms will be staffed," said Hernandez, who represents the West District. "How can we possibly think we can turn these schools around by laying off teachers? I don't understand that at all."

When the board approved the 2011-12 district budget in May, it included the teacher cuts, which equate to about $5.8 million, according to Barbara J. Smith, the district's chief financial officer.

Hernandez and Kapsiak say the district can draw enough money from cutting central office administrators and from its rainy day fund to cover the cost of salaries and benefits for the reinstated teachers.

Several board members -- with Kapsiak being the most vocal -- have called for the district to trim its nonunion, or exempt, central office staff, which more than doubled in size, to 28, during Williams' six years as superintendent.

"There seems to be money that we can use to bring teachers back," said Kapsiak, who represents the Central District. "If it means getting rid of some exempt employees, so be it. It's something we need to do anyway."

Smith said one specific concession from the teachers union would cover the cost of reinstating those who were laid off.

"That is also the approximate value of the cosmetic rider the district asked the [Buffalo Teachers Federation] to give up for one year on several occasions," she said in an email.

Depending on which health insurance plan they have, teachers and other employees have a rider that covers cosmetic surgery procedures. The district pays the full cost for all procedures that employees and retirees get.

BTF President Philip Rumore has said the union is willing to give up the benefit but only as part of contract negotiations. District officials asked the union to waive the benefit for one year, saying they would use the savings to reinstate positions in the budget. Rumore declined.

"If they can't find $5 million in a close to $800 million budget, that's problematic," Rumore said. "That's just wrong."

The teachers contract expired seven years ago. District officials, in recent negotiations, proposed annual raises of about 1 percent, coupled with employee contributions toward health insurance that would cover about 15 percent of the cost. Teachers currently do not pay toward their premiums.

Rumore has called those terms "insulting," saying teachers would effectively end up bringing home less money than they do now. The teachers union last week voted no confidence in the superintendent.

Since the layoffs were announced in early August, several board members have said they were surprised by how disproportionately some schools have been hit. Parents and staff at City Honors have been especially vocal about the layoff of six teachers at the school -- about one-tenth of the faculty there.

One of those teachers, Kapsiak said, has already taken a job at Nichols School. Other laid-off teachers likely will take jobs in other districts, she said.

"We're losing good teachers to private schools and suburban schools," she said. "Where are we going to be with the students? We have to start thinking about the students and stop thinking about adults and whose feelings we're hurting."

The board is scheduled to meet at noon today to discuss with Williams its interest in terminating his contract.

Kapsiak and Hernandez say they want the board to vote on their resolution today, so that if it passes, there is time to reinstate the teachers. The next regularly scheduled board meeting after today is next Wednesday. The layoffs are to take effect at the end of August.

email: mpasciak@buffnews.com