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Teacher contract boosts pay, ends cosmetic rider

Buffalo teachers have a new contract after they and the School Board approved a new deal Monday night, ending a more than a decade-long standoff to agree on a new pact.

The agreement marks the end of the often tense negotiations to replace a teacher contract that expired 12 years ago - the longest contract stalemate in the history of public sector collective bargaining in New York, according to the New York State United Teachers, the parent union of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.

The School Board voted 7-2 on the proposed agreement, which includes a 10 percent pay raise the first year, but teachers weren’t as quick to embrace the deal. They lined up at Kleinhans Music Hall, with some raising concerns about the deal. But just before 9 p.m., the teachers voted to approve the pact.

“The biggest victory is that we reached a contract,” said Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore, who negotiated the deal and estimated about 60 percent of the teachers voted. “Now, perhaps, we can start talking about kids, rather than contracts.”

Both sides had to give a little when it came to some of the big issues. Buffalo teachers got a boost in pay. The Buffalo school district got  teachers to chip in for health insurance and agree to a longer school day, although the contribution wasn’t as much or the day as long as the district would have hoped.

"I think overall it's probably the best they could negotiate," said teacher Keith Hughes. "We understand the district's constraints and hopefully we'll have another contract in three years."

As for some of the other bargaining issues, like who controls the transferring of teachers, those will be battles for another contract.

"We want to have a new professional partnership with our teachers," Superintendent Kriner Cash said after the vote. "Pay them competitively and fairly and make sure that they can do their best work - support them to do their best work - everyday. This agreement does that and more and we're very excited about it."

"It was rigorous, it was difficult," he added. "It was a long journey to get to here."

Among the highlights of the contract presented to teachers on Monday:

Teachers get:

* Raises: Under the new contract, teachers would get an 10 percent raise upon approving the contract, followed by a 2 percent each of the following two years.  This was at the heart of negotiations for Buffalo teachers, who wanted salaries on par with teachers in surrounding districts.

* Back Pay: The contract includes a one-time bonus between $2,000 and $9,000 as back pay for the 12 years without a contact.

* Seniority: The contract maintains rules that school assignments are based on seniority. The district had wanted to eliminate the seniority preferences.

The district gets:

* A contribution toward health insurance: Fully-paid health insurance is gone under the new contract, with teachers agreeing to pay a flat dollar amount. The District wanted teachers to pay 10 percent of the rising health insurances, but backed off and agreed to a dollar amount.

* Longer school days: Teachers would work 25 minutes longer under the new terms bringing the school day to 7 hours and 15 minutes. That’s 15 minutes shorter than what the district wanted.

* Longer school year: School year for teachers would last 188 days, up by two. One day would be a “duty-free” day prior to the official start of school.

* Elimination of the cosmetic surgery rider: Saves about $5 million by getting rid of the controversial health insurance covering cosmetic surgery.

District officials estimate the contract will cost about $98.8 million over its three-year term. The district has $65 million in reserves to settle all of its outstanding contracts, including with the teachers union.

The two dissenting votes were from Carl Paladino and Larry Quinn , who walked out of their meeting in protest when the board decided to discuss the deal in private, rather than in public.

Meanwhile, Buffalo teachers started lining up outside of Kleinhans Music Hall - some even tailgating in the parking lot - hours before the start of the union meeting, which was 12 years in the making.

Shortly before 6 p.m. the line to get in snaked out the door, down the parking lot and along the sidewalk on Porter Avenue. It was the first time in 16 years the union had called an all teacher meeting to vote on a contract, so many teachers were not familiar with the process.

Once inside, one teacher explained, the teachers were briefed on the terms of the contract and the debate began.

"The bottom line is that there was a lot of discussion and a lot of questions, but it was passed almost unanimously by the teachers," Rumore said. "When you've been without a contract for 12 years and when you're presented with something, off the bat people have a lot of questions."

"All in all, it's not everything everyone wanted," he added. "But I think it was a fair compromise."

One of the biggest concerns was that the new agreement does not credit teachers for the years they did not move up the contractual pay scale because of a citywide wage freeze. Some felt the compensation included in the deal does not make up for the 12 years they worked under an expired agreement and did not receive raises. Others felt that a requirement they pay part of their health insurance premium cut into the pay increase. 

There was even talk about delaying a vote to a later meeting. But within minutes of that prospect being raised, someone in the teachers union moved to bring the contract to a voice call vote and the deal was ratified by a majority of teachers.

Teachers, however, expressed mixed emotions leaving the meeting, with some saying they felt overwhelmed and rushed because they did not see the contract earlier and have time to think about it. Others were glad to resolve the issue.

"I thought we'd never get this done," said Rick Leggio, a teacher at Hutchinson Central Technical High School.

Still, for Leggio, the final product seemed to favor the district.

"They gained in this, in my opinion," he said.

Read the full agreement here: tentative_cba

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