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District, BTF talking again as union presses for quick contract

The long-expired Buffalo teachers contract is taking center stage again, but the two sides can’t agree on a timeline.

The Buffalo Teachers Federation and district negotiators met last week and agreed to two additional meetings – one Friday and another Sept. 16.

The union also has planned a rally to be held just before the School Board meeting Sept. 28.

“We want to demonstrate that we want a contract, and we want it now. That’s what the teachers expect,” BTF President Philip Rumore said.

Rumore has said he wants a new teacher contract within the first month of the school year, and a meeting of BTF members is scheduled for Oct. 17 in Kleinhans Music Hall. The expectation is there will be a new contract to present, Rumore said.

“If there isn’t one to present, from what I understand, the teachers will be very angry,” Rumore said.

The district is noncommittal about a timeline.

“We are working in these first few weeks to try to get progress done,” Superintendent Kriner Cash said recently. “I would say what we’re trying to do is reset. Reset around tone. Reset around the focus so we don’t have a whole lot of things going on. We’re going to focus on four or five items that we want to try to get done.”

Cash would not identify the four or five major points, saying the two sides agreed not to “negotiate through the media.”

Typically, the sticking points between the union and the district have been teachers salaries and raises, health benefits and the cosmetic surgery rider.

The former School Board majority took a hard line, paying an outside attorney upward of $150,000 and demanding significant work rule changes. It wanted to increase the school day by 40 minutes, increase the number of teacher work days from 186 to 189 and require teachers to pay 12 percent of their health insurance premiums. It also wanted a provision to allow principals to transfer and assign teachers based on educational needs, not seniority, a cornerstone in most labor contracts.

The new board majority that took office July 1, however, appears more in line with the union’s agenda.

The district and union have a tumultuous bargaining history and haven’t been able to reach a deal since the last contract expired in July 2004. Last month, the Public Employee Relations Board found the district guilty of bad faith negotiations when it put new items on the table after the two sides had agreed to work with an outside fact-finder.

The ruling directed the district to withdraw that proposal and revert to an earlier one that Rumore has said would be “acceptable” to his members. That proposal called for paying teachers retroactive raises going back to the 2008-09 school year. It also suggested giving the most-senior teachers periodic longevity bonuses of up to $5,000.

The changes would bring the maximum salary for a Buffalo teacher to about $97,000 and result in a roughly 12 percent raise for teachers. The proposal also called for teachers to pay a small amount toward their health insurance.

The PERB ruling, however, is nonbinding and amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist.


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