An update on contract negotiations with the Buffalo Teachers Federation took center stage at Wednesday’s meeting of the School Board.
Major points in the school district’s most recent proposal include a 10 percent increase in teacher salaries effective upon ratification of the contract. Teachers would also receive a one percent increase, plus step increases of 2.5 percent in each of the next three years of the proposed four-year contract. Teachers who work at least 160 days during the 2015-16 school year would be eligible for one-time payments ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on their pay-step level.
Also, the district’s proposal would increase starting salaries for new teachers in the 2016-17 academic year. For example, newly hired teachers with a bachelor’s degree would start at $39,806 instead of $32,897. For teachers hired with a master’s degree, the starting salary would increase from $37,552 to $44,926.
In addition, active employees would pay 10 percent of the cost of premiums for their health insurance, and if the agreement is ratified, new hires would contribute 20 percent of premium costs. Future retirees would contribute the same as active employees, effective July 1. Physician copays would increase to $15, from $5. And the district proposes dropping the expensive policy rider for cosmetic surgery.
“We spend $3.5 million per year on cosmetic surgery,” said attorney Nathaniel J. Kuzma, executive director of labor relations for the district.
Meanwhile, in a statement, BTF President Philip Rumore said Buffalo teachers are already $20,000 behind their counterparts in other districts – a loss of $600,000 in lifetime earnings and $10,000 a year less in retirement because retirement is based upon their final salary.
“The Board’s salary offer of a 10 percent raise, effective upon ratification of a new contract, over the 11 years teachers went without a salary increase, amounts to a less than 1 percent increase,” Rumore wrote. The district also proposed modifying the school year to 188 days, from 186, running from Sept. 1 to June 30. Currently, public schools traditionally start after Labor Day, Kuzma said.
The school day would be lengthened from 6 hours, 50 minutes to 7 hours, 30 minutes, which is more in line with other districts, Kuzma said. “We’re the shortest in Erie County,” Kuzma said.
In addition, newly hired teachers in seventh through 12th grades would have to teach six 45-minute periods a day. Secondary school teachers hired before July 1, 2015, could be assigned to teach a sixth period based on qualifications determined by the district and would receive an additional $5,000 per year.
The proposal also would require newly hired teachers to work an additional four days per year for professional development. Filling vacancies for summer school, after-school and recreation programs would be based on whom the district deems most qualified. And teachers would be required to use technology such as Parent Portal, provided that they are trained by the district.
The district wants full control over the teacher transfer process. Seniority would no longer be a determining factor.
As for leave time, the district wants to eliminate early retirement incentive and sick bank leave. In addition, personal leave would be reduced from five days a year to three days, in step with other districts.
Kuzma said that there were some positive discussions with BTF regarding the district’s proposal, including class size overages and a longer workday and year, but the bulk of the district’s package was not agreed to nor countered by the BTF because the union felt the district’s wage proposal is not sufficient to secure an agreement.