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Buffalo school district releases its contract proposal with teachers union

The Buffalo school district is willing to give teachers an average 23 percent salary increase over the next four years in exchange for more than a dozen concessions in union contract work rules and employee benefit reductions. The changes include adding four days to the school year, lengthening the school day by 50 minutes and eliminating seniority as a factor in teacher hiring and transfers.

In an unusual move, details of the district’s proposal to the Buffalo Teachers Federation were released to the media Tuesday.

Terry O’Neil, the district’s new chief negotiator, acknowledged that it’s unusual to publicly share such negotiation details but said that these are not typical negotiating circumstances. In this case, the district is not leaving it solely to union leadership to convey the terms of the district’s proposal to teachers.

“These are negotiations going on for 11 years,” O’Neil said. “We just want to make sure nothing is lost in translation between what is said at the table and what is said here.”

O’Neil said the raises offered Tuesday, which include a 10 percent pay hike in 2015-16, are higher than prior proposals.

But in exchange for more money, the district is seeking a dozen major concessions from the union that are meant to give the district more control over teacher hiring, training and student learning time. The district also is asking for givebacks related to sick time, paid leave time and health insurance.

BTF President Phil Rumore called the proposal “insulting, demeaning and illegal.”

“They talk about how they want to address the decline in student performance,” he said. “I see not one thing in this proposal that addresses improving student performance ... All I see is an attack on our contract and minuscule raises that are offset by the things that the district is seeking.”

He elaborated that the proposal doesn’t address issues like lowering class sizes, providing more reading teachers, guidance counselors and support staff needed for students to succeed. Instead, he said, the district is focused on dismantling the union.

O’Neil defended the long list of proposed concessions, saying, “There’s a lot that has to be addressed. We’re trying to keep control of our own schools by changing the contract before the state takes them over.”

In terms of health insurance, the district wants teachers to contribute 20 percent toward their coverage and give up their cosmetic surgery rider. Currently, teachers receive fully covered health benefits.

Tuesday marked the reopening of negotiations since the School Board unanimously hired O’Neil to lead the district’s negotiating team.

In a statement, interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie said, “To turn around our district for our students, parents and teachers, we must change work rules that impede the flexibility needed to properly educate our children.”

Rumore said the union plans to file legal complaints against the district for its latest proposal, which he said violates bargaining rules because the district scaled back on offers previously made and added new proposals the district hasn’t seen before. In anticipation of this, the School Board recently approved a resolution directing the district to negotiate a new contract based on five broad principles regarding work-rule flexibility and economic need.