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Buffalo teachers simply want a fair contract

The News' editorial analysis of the contract dispute between Buffalo School Superintendent James Williams and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore is fundamentally flawed.

The News opines that Rumore is "obstinate" and unwilling to make "concessions to reality," and that Williams' function in the negotiation is to "nurture Buffalo's schoolchildren." Nonsense!

Williams' function is to balance the schools' budget. Nothing about his negotiation or approach meaningfully considers what is required to nurture Buffalo's schoolchildren.

Once upon a time, Buffalo teachers were among the highest paid in Western New York. That has not been so for years, and several recent years without a contract by reason of the city's refusal to offer any increase have moved Buffalo teachers further behind most suburban teachers in wages, benefits and in the quality of their working environment.

In contrast, almost every local suburban school district has given its teachers multiple wage increases. A control board, without any responsibility for the quality of public education, has suspended even the modest step increases required by the existing contract.

During the same time frame, Buffalo's classroom populations have generally increased to the contract maximum, about 30 students per class. Of those 30, a significant number are likely to be poor, emotionally disturbed or developmentally disabled. Does anyone doubt that there are more children who are deprived or disadvantaged in the city than in the suburbs? Yet city classes are packed to the breaking point. Teaching in these circumstances is beyond challenging.

If The News or Williams had a view of public education that extended beyond the current budget, neither would be at odds with the city's teachers.

Assume that the best newly graduated teachers were offered an opportunity to teach 20 children in a suburban classroom, with the suburban districts providing real alternatives for children with special needs. Assume also that in the suburbs these talented teachers will be offered more money, better benefits, yearly wage increases, the support of school nurses, guidance counselors and extracurricular and enrichment activity budgets that put Buffalo programs to shame.

In this environment, public education will become just what it has become in Western New York, a two-tiered system.

Those who can afford to move to Amherst, Clarence, Orchard Park or Lancaster get reasonable class sizes, first-rate facilities, the best teachers and support. In short, a quality public education is made available to the wealthy and a certain path to inferior education is all that The News and the superintendent are willing to offer the children of Buffalo.

Why in the world would any responsible city educator make any concession to this reality? No giveaway is necessary. But a continuing failure to provide wages, benefits and working conditions for city teachers that are comparable to those provided in the suburbs makes a mockery of "public" education for the city's children.

Anthony M. Nosek lives in Buffalo.

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