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School Board majority seen as backing Buffalo teacher contract

Buffalo School Superintendent Kriner Cash said the school district’s most recent contract offer to teachers has the support of all nine School Board members.

It seems he miscounted.

At least two board members – Theresa A. Harris-Tigg and Jennifer L. Mecozzi – are noncommittal, while board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold and Vice President Sharon M. Belton-Cottman are declining to comment.

But Cash does appear to have a majority of five members behind him, with Hope R. Jay, Carl P. Paladino, Patricia A. Pierce, Larry Quinn and Paulette Woods backing the district’s latest offer for ending the 12-year impasse.

But even Cash has said that support could change as the political climate does. And one parent leader said the Buffalo Teachers Federation may try to pressure the board members it gave money to during their election campaigns, while some BTF-backed candidates currently support the superintendent.

Harris-Tigg – one of the BTF-supported candidates who won re-election to her East District seat last May – questioned Cash’s pronouncement that he has the support of the whole School Board.

“The board has not taken a vote. Not sure why he said that,” Harris-Tigg said.

“I am onboard with continuing negotiations, respectful negotiations so we can get to a place where it’s a win-win. I respect teachers, and I’m also an elected official, and I have to be concerned about the cost. I am also concerned that students get effective teachers in the classroom, effective principals in the school buildings.”

Whatever support Cash has may change once the BTF comes up with its own proposal and some BTF-backed board members take a look at it.

“I agree with the fact we’ve looked over the proposal. No one has said this is absolutely ridiculous,” Mecozzi said of board members’ reactions to the district’s recent offer.

That offer includes a 10 percent pay increase plus a 3 percent increase next year and one-time bonuses in return for teachers paying part of their health insurance and working a longer school day and year.

Board members are waiting to see the BTF’s proposal, and Mecozzi did not want to comment extensively until negotiations have produced a final product for board members to vote on.

“We’re all kind of waiting to see both sides,” said Mecozzi, who was endorsed by the BTF when she unseated the former School Board president in May for the West District seat. “They can come to me when it’s finalized, and I can make a decision based on what’s in front of me.”

But Jay, who also was endorsed by the BTF when she defeated the North District incumbent, said she is onboard with the district’s latest offer and is hopeful that a contract will be ratified within the next couple of months.

“It’s a fair proposal because what the district is attempting to do is to provide the teachers with excellent compensation for the hard work they do without bankrupting the district, because there’s a really delicate balance,” Jay said. “The teachers need to be fairly compensated, but we can’t bankrupt the district because it’ll hurt the children.

“We have competent people that are in the front involved in the negotiations, and the board members are not those people. I trust the people working on the negotiations are making a good-faith effort.”

Cash definitely has the support of Woods, who also was endorsed by the BTF last May when she won the Central District seat.

“I’m standing with the superintendent. I ran on putting children first, and the reforms that he’s proposing will improve education for children,” Woods said. “I think we’re offering them a very good contract offer.”

Cash also has support from at-large members Pierce and Quinn, as well as from Paladino, the Park District representative who said he believes that Cash ultimately will have the full support of the entire board.

“I personally don’t think that the board members who were supported by the union would dare to take a position on the side of the union,” Paladino said. “That would be admitting to a bias that would be very unfortunate for them. It’s called pay-to-play.”

Pierce said what’s important is that the school district’s proposal increases teachers’ salaries while protecting district solvency. “Settle it now,” she said. “Most importantly, what I’d like to convey to teachers is, we want to make sure they know we’re not hiding anything. We’re open. We’re transparent. As a board, we’re willing to talk.”

The school district’s proposal would bring the teachers’ salaries up to a level that is commensurate with suburban districts, Quinn said. “That’s just a fact,” he said. “Secondly, it does not reduce their other compensation.”

Quinn added, “Their complaint is that they’re behind their suburban counterparts, but suburban teachers do not have full retiree health care (referring to the nominal payments that Buffalo retirees make for health insurance). They don’t have the number of personal days we do.

“If teachers really want a suburban contract, maybe that’s something we would do.”

In addition to Harris-Tigg, Mecozzi, Jay and Woods, the other School Board member elected with BTF support last May was Belton-Cottman, who ran unopposed to keep her Ferry District seat.

Belton-Cottman said she did not want to comment.

“We’re still in negotiations, and until a final proposal is put in place, I don’t have anything to say. I want to see what the final proposal is, and then I’ll be willing to comment,” she said. “I don’t think it’s healthy for the negotiation process to be having that conversation. I think we need to let Cash negotiate.”

Nevergold, the board president, took a similar stance. “I think I’m just going to defer at this point … just because it is part of the negotiations, and therefore I would rather not comment on it because it might impact negotiations,” she said.

Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said the BTF might have some expectations of the board members it endorsed five months ago, as well as at-large member Nevergold, whom it backed in 2014.

“I think as of today, I believe (Cash) has all nine votes, but I believe that’s separate from any pressure that’s coming from the union,” Radford said. “The pressure is really that the union made an investment in those board members, and they’re going to want a return on this investment. If I’m the union, and I fund somebody’s campaign, I’m not expecting you to come back and say, ‘I disagree with you.’ ”

Harris-Tigg, one of the BTF-backed members who is noncommittal, said she is planning a community forum from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at Harvey Austin School for the public to weigh in on the contract proposals.

“I’m going to listen to what they think about it,” Harris-Tigg said, “and get feedback from the community.”

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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