Buffalo teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract for 11 years. They have watched for a decade as raises for suburban counterparts far outpaced their step increases.
Meanwhile, the school district has been operating under work rules that have prevented significant progress on improving educational outcomes.
Some of those antiquated requirements are almost laughable, including a smoking room in each school, a vending machine for each school’s staff use only, access to outside telephones and pay phones and a requirement that notices be posted on bulletin boards.
Others – especially the district’s short school day and short school year – significantly impact education.
The district and Buffalo Teachers Federation should both want to get a deal done. After so many superintendents and so many years of on-again, off-again negotiating, both sides should be willing to come to an agreement on a contract that addresses the needs of teachers and students.
District officials have put their proposal on the table, offering a contract that includes an average 23 percent salary increase over four years. The proposal calls for a 10 percent increase in salary, plus a 2.5 percent “step” increase, for 2015-16. It also includes 2.5 percent step increases for each of the next three years, plus 1 percent raises to the salary schedule for those years, effectively a 3.5 percent increase for each year.
In return for those raises, the district wants to add four days to the school year, lengthen the school day by 50 minutes and eliminate seniority as a factor in teacher transfers. The district also wants teachers to contribute to what is now fully paid health insurance and give up the controversial cosmetic surgery rider.
It’s a long list of changes, but that’s a consequence of the shifting needs during the lengthy period since the last contract was negotiated. These are changes that took effect in other districts years ago.
As expected, not much of the district’s opening offer sounds acceptable to Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore, who called the proposal “insulting, demeaning and illegal.”
If a 23 percent pay raise is an insult, an awful lot of workers in Western New York would like to be insulted.
Quite frankly, the School Board’s consideration of a plan to limit each class to 18 students in kindergarten through third grade is a show of good faith. All three models under consideration would cost into the millions to pay for hundreds of new teachers.
Even though the contract has been long expired, 80 percent of the district’s 3,500 teachers have received step increases totaling 24.5 percent, an average annual raise of 3 percent. Hwever, teachers on the top step have gotten no raises in that time.
The step raises, along with the Cadillac health plan, keep coming thanks to a state law known as the Triborough Amendment, part of the Taylor Law designed to eliminate strikes by public employees. Triborough requires the terms of a union contract to remain in force until a new contract is negotiated. That removes much of the union’s incentive to negotiate. But as more teachers reach the 27th, and top, step and near retirement, more union members may be motivated to reach an agreement.
The district’s offer and the union’s angry reaction are just the start of what is certain to be a difficult negotiating process. In the end, it should be possible to settle on a contract that rewards professionals while improving students’ chances for a good education.