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BOARD ASKS JUDGE TO SEND MESSAGE IN STRIKE LEADERS' SENTENCE

City school officials will not make specific recommendations on whether Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore should be sentenced to jail, but they are urging the judge to send a message that "anarchy and mayhem" will not be tolerated in future contract talks, School Board President Paul G. Buchanan said Wednesday.

He said papers filed Wednesday with State Supreme Court Justice Kevin M. Dillon stress the seriousness of the union's decision to violate Dillon's no-strike order and argue that a perceived slap on the wrist could encourage the BTF or other unions to strike in the future.

For example, Buchanan said, the contracts between the school district and its blue-collar and food service unions expired on June 30, but both units are working under the terms of the old pacts while negotiations continue.

If those unions see the BTF go unpunished, "what's to keep them from striking so they can get a contract in two weeks with no penalties?" Buchanan said.

Dillon will sentence Rumore, Barbara Bielecki and Edith Le Win -- all BTF officers -- Friday morning on their guilty pleas to contempt of court for leading a teachers strike Sept. 14. They face the possibility of up to 30 days in jail and $1,000 fines.

Both the union and the city filed written sentencing recommendations Wednesday, but Dillon plans to keep them under wraps until Friday. Rumore declined to release the BTF's papers, and Michael B. Risman, Buffalo's corporation counsel, did not make documents filed by the city available.

The union has claimed repeatedly that the strike -- which violated the state's Taylor Law -- was provoked by a School Board that failed to negotiate seriously for more than a year. While the board demanded that the BTF adhere to the Taylor Law, it ignored its own obligation to bargain in good faith, the union says.

That argument is expected to be a key element in the union's sentencing arguments.

Buchanan said the city's papers were prepared with input from the Board of Education, School Superintendent Marion Canedo and other district administrators.

"We're not taking any position on the sentencing," he said. "It would be inappropriate for us, since it's a contempt against the court, not a contempt against the board."

At the same time, Buchanan said, the court order was the board's only tool to seek to avert or end the strike. The BTF, he said, adhered to Taylor Law provisions that benefited the union but violated the no-strike provision.

"Once you start deciding which laws you're going to obey and which laws you're not, you're getting into a slippery morass," Buchanan said. "Then you get anarchy and mayhem, which is what happened when the teachers went on strike. If we can't abide by the rules of the court, what kind of society are we?"

Dillon had angry words for BTF leaders during two of several court hearings but has given no public indication of what sentence he will impose.

The BTF, as a corporation, also entered a guilty plea Friday and could be fined any amount Dillon deems reasonable at a Nov. 13 sentencing.

Donald Van Every, an at-large member of the board, last week publicly urged Dillon not to sentence the BTF leaders to jail but to consider community service instead.

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