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School Board has a responsibility to students and taxpayers as it negotiates with BTF

It’s not too surprising that Philip Rumore thinks it’s reasonable to nail down a new teachers contract within the first month of the school year that begins in less than two weeks. After all, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which he heads, and New York State United Teachers worked hard to ensure that May’s School Board elections produced bargaining partners more to the union’s liking.

Frankly, it would be all to the good if the board committed to producing a new contract that is fair to teachers, students and the taxpayers who foot the bill. Teachers certainly deserve it. They have been without a contract since 2004, when the last one expired. They have been getting step raises, it is true, but their pay has lagged behind that of teachers in other districts, and the work they do is critical to Buffalo’s prospects.

But to hammer out a fair contract also requires an acknowledgement of the changing needs of students and the limits of taxpayers’ bank accounts. We’re not sure that’s what Rumore has in mind and it remains to be seen what the new School Board thinks about those essential factors.

But if teachers want healthy raises, they also need to be prepared to make some sacrifices, beyond – but certainly including – the preposterous elective cosmetic surgery rider that bloats their benefit packages. Other important issues include the overall cost of health insurance, the length of the school day and year, and management rights to assign teachers to the schools where their talents are put to best use.

Issues such as those are, in good part, what has blocked progress on a new contract. Rumore, despite protests to the contrary, has seemed content to keep teachers working under the terms of the long-expired contract, relying on the state Taylor Law, which sets labor rules, and the Triborough Amendment, which keeps expired contracts in place until a new one is negotiated – even if it takes 12 years or more.

If the BTF hasn’t purposely maneuvered based on those two factors – both of which tilt heavily in favor of public employee unions and away from taxpayers – then members who are working under the old contract have been misused. It’s strange that other teachers unions are able to negotiate new contracts, but Buffalo’s is unable.

Giving Rumore his due, some of that delay may be due to the nature of the previous School Board majority, which was appropriately committed to reform but whose several dysfunctions rendered it unprofessional in a number of ways. Still, that doesn’t account for a 12-year gap between contracts. Either Rumore thought the existing contract was preferential to the givebacks that would have been needed to agree on a new one or he wasn’t much worried about a new contract at all.

Presuming it to be the former, Rumore’s new optimism must in some way relate to his views of the new board majority. Taxpayers’ concern has to be that he expects the board to be the union’s patsy: giving raises without getting the givebacks needed to better serve the district’s students and to protect not only taxpayers’ wallets, but their right to have scarce dollars used wisely.

That can’t be the consequence of the change in the School Board majority. It must place value first on the students it serves, then on teachers and taxpayers.

In addition, Superintendent Kriner Cash has to continue to insist on having the conditions and authority necessary to improve the performance of an underperforming district. He is far and away the most capable superintendent the district has had in many years; his efforts need to be supported by the School Board.

Whether that happens will be important to note as Rumore pursues his goal of a contract by October.

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