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Board votes to rehire teachers and aides Total number recalled likely to exceed 100

The Buffalo School Board voted unanimously Monday to use its entire contingency fund for 2011-12 -- $1.2 million -- to bring back an unspecified number of teachers and teacher's aides who received layoff notices this month.

Those employees will be recalled in addition to 47 teachers and 27 teacher's aides who were recalled over the weekend.

At the end of July, the district sent layoff notices to 117 teachers and 150 teacher's aides. Such cuts were included in the budget the board adopted in May, although the exact number of affected positions were slightly different.

Given the board's vote Monday, in total, more than one-third of those employees -- probably more than 100 -- will be recalled.

The vote fell short of a resolution filed earlier this month by Ralph R. Hernandez and Mary Ruth Kapsiak, who sought to reinstate all the teachers who had received layoff notices. That would have cost about $5.4 million.

In recent weeks, some parents and teachers have been lobbying board members to restore positions. The parent group at City Honors has been especially vocal. That school was in line to lose six teachers, many of whom had received specialized training in teaching International Baccalaureate courses.

Hernandez and Kapsiak tried Monday to persuade their fellow board members to restore as many teachers as possible, as soon as possible. The layoffs are to take effect Wednesday.

"As the discussion keeps taking place, time keeps lapsing. Unless there's some law that prohibits the board from hiring these people back, let's do this and work out the details later," Hernandez said. "What's happening is nothing is being done. That's where the problem is, I think."

Sharon Belton-Cottman, who represents the Ferry District, noted that officials have projected a decrease in student enrollment of as much as 500 this year, which equates to a need for fewer teachers. Final student enrollment numbers will not be known until mid-October.

"If we reinstate [teachers], we know we're going to lay them off anyway. That's interesting. It's not responsible," she said.

Outgoing Superintendent James A. Williams warned board members that hiring back all 117 teachers who have been sent layoff notices would require the board to first pass a resolution to increase the district's expenditures. That, in turn, would require approval from the control board.

And all of that would likely push the district past not only the Wednesday effective date of the layoffs, but also past the Sept. 7 start of school.

In the end, after nearly two hours of often heated discussion, the board decided to use all of its contingency fund to bring back some of those who were about to be laid off.

Central office staff will decide in the next two days exactly how to allocate that money. The decisions must be made by Wednesday.

Those funds would be the equivalent of about 20 to 25 teaching positions if all the money were spent on teachers, according to Barbara J. Smith, the district's chief financial officer. However, that number will likely be less, as board members indicated they want some of the money used to hire back teacher's aides.

The board met twice last week to consider the resolution from Hernandez and Kapsiak to reinstate all the laid-off teachers and evaluate hiring back the teacher's aides.

Friday, Smith and Williams sent a memo to board members informing them that letters were being sent to rescind 28 teacher layoffs, and they anticipated another 32 would be sent. In addition, 27 teacher's aides were sent letters saying their layoffs had been rescinded.

Marta Clark, from the district's human resources department, said Monday that a total of 47 teachers had been sent letters over the weekend rescinding their layoffs.

The 24 who are secondary teachers have already been assigned, she said.

However, the 23 elementary teachers have not yet been assigned, Clark said. "We are working around the clock" to do that, she said.

Monday, the board also directed central office staff to use the $505,000 the board earmarked in the 2011-12 budget in May for attendance teachers. Board members, many of whom were frustrated that the attendance teachers have not already been hired, made it clear they want the attendance teachers in place before school starts Sept. 7.

"August has only got two more days. We still don't have attendance teachers in place," said at-large member John B. Licata. "I'm frustrated we continue to maneuver around the edges of this issue. We're going to be sitting here in October, and I'm going to be heavily medicated if we don't have attendance teachers in place by then because that's the only way my voice is going to be calm."

Maria Rosa, one of the attendance teachers who was laid off six years ago, was in the boardroom to witness the vote to recall her and her colleagues.

"It's a positive thing, and I commend the board members that really pushed for this," she said.

But, she said, she and her colleagues were laid off as the result of the district's dispute with the teachers union over switching to a single health insurer.

"I think people need to realize we were not laid off because we were not effective," she said. "It was because of a midyear crisis that happened with the single carrier. That midyear crisis never came."

email: mpasciak@buffnews.com