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CONTROL BOARD PUTS SCHOOL DISTRICT PACT TALKS IN DEEP FREEZE

The control board's wage freeze on salaries for Buffalo teachers and other employees has put a stranglehold on district contract negotiations that isn't expected to ease until next summer at the earliest.

A legal challenge to the control board order won't go to trial until June 21, meaning already stalled contract negotiations with nine district unions won't get serious until at least after the end of the school year. Already, district unions are working under contracts that expired July 1.

An appeal of the court decision -- widely expected regardless of what the initial ruling is -- could push negotiations back even more. Union officials said that will worsen already testy staff morale and make it difficult to retain teachers and administrators who can find jobs in suburban districts not affected by the freeze.

"We wish this were over yesterday, but as federal trials go, it's moving along expeditiously," Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said in a message to teachers. "We will see how many delaying tactics the state and the control board use. We will fight this to the (U.S.) Supreme Court if necessary."

Negotiations between the school district and its nine unions have gone practically nowhere since the control board imposed a freeze in April on wages and step increases based on years of service. Contract talks aren't expected to pick up until the issue is resolved in court.

Gary Crosby, the school district's chief financial officer, said the BTF is talking with district officials about plans to save money by consolidating health care plans but is not willing to actually negotiate.

Crosby said he is confident the wage freeze will be upheld in court and rebuffed a BTF call for money to be set aside in the event the freeze is overturned and teachers and other staff members are owed back pay.

"If we had to set money aside, we'd have to cut more teachers and more teacher's aides," he said. "I don't even want to entertain that thought."

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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