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Who wins under new Buffalo teacher contract?

The 12-year saga involving the Buffalo teachers contract ended in dramatic fashion Monday with both the Board of Education and the Buffalo Teachers Federation going down to the wire before agreeing to a new contract that capped a wild, frenzied day.

Now that the dust has settled, here are some questions and answers to help make sense of the new three-year deal:

Q: How much will this contract cost?

A: The cumulative cost is $98.8 million over the  three years. That includes $131 million in additional costs to the district over that period, but  also includes $32.2 million in savings largely because teachers will begin contributing to their health insurance premiums.

Q: Who will pay for it?

A: The district has a reserve fund of $65 million that can be used to settle the contract. It will have to figure out how to pay for the remaining $33.8 million. Members of the local legislative delegation have said they will lobby the state to increase the district’s aid allocation in the coming years. BTF President Philip Rumore said he will also ask the city of Buffalo to contribute more. The city has not increased its $70 million contribution to the schools in nearly a decade.

Q: What was the big victory for teachers?

A: Salaries. Teachers will get a 10 percent pay bump the first year of the contract, and 2 percent each of the following two years. The addition of steps to the pay scale also resulted in an increase in the maximum pay teachers can earn. They also avoided having to pay a percentage of their health insurance premium, as the district had proposed, and instead will pay a fixed dollar amount.

Q: What was the big victory for the district?

A: Also health care. The district rids itself of the controversial cosmetic surgery rider, and for the first time ever gets teachers to chip in for their health insurance. The district also got teachers to add 25 minutes to their school day.

Q: What are they going to do with the extra 25 minutes?

A: The added time doesn’t necessarily have to be for instruction. It could be used for teacher planning or for whatever schools think is the best use of the time.

Q: Why did Board Members Carl P. Paladino and Larry Quinn vote against the contract?

A: Paladino and Quinn were among those on the former board majority who were pushing for a contract that included significant work rule changes for teachers. One of their top priorities was allowing principals the freedom to hire teachers based on merit, not the seniority preferences maintained in the new contract. Paladino and Quinn also raised concerns about the cost of the contract and the secretive manner in which it was kept from board members before Monday’s meeting.

Q: How do teacher salaries in Buffalo compare with suburban districts now?

A: Salaries for Buffalo teachers at the end of their careers --  $96,389  with a master's degree plus 30 hours of additional training -- are now more in line with the suburbs;  but for those in the middle, pay still lags behind their suburban counterparts. That’s because it still takes Buffalo teachers more years to reach the top of the scale.

Q: Why were teachers unhappy?

A: One of the biggest concerns was that the new agreement does not credit teachers for the years they did not move up the contractual pay scale because of a citywide wage freeze. Some also felt the compensation does not make up for the 12 years they worked under an expired agreement and did not receive raises, and that a requirement that they pay part of their health insurance premium cut into the pay increase. Others also expressed concerns that the contract was more favorable to teachers at the end of their careers than those in the middle.

Q: What does the new contract mean for retired teachers?

A: Teachers who retired between July 1, 2007, and the ratification of the contract will receive a one-time payment of $2,500. Retirees will also begin paying more toward their health insurance premiums. Under the old contract, a single teacher could pay $475 a year to stay on the district’s plan, or $950 for family coverage. Under the new contract, the cost will go up to $600/$1,350 for teachers who retire between July 2017 and June 2018 and $650/$1,500 for teachers who retire after July 2018.

Q: Does this  agreement signal an improved relationship between the district and union?

A: That is yet to be seen. Rumore and Superintendent Kriner Cash praised each other for their work in coming up with a contract, and both said they look forward to working with each other on programs that directly affect students. But there will inevitably be more issues the two will have to navigate, including coming up with a plan for evaluating teachers. Stay tuned.

Other Provisions

Most of the attention has focused on salary and benefits, but Buffalo teachers got a few extra - although more obscure - perks in their new contract agreement while the district also got a few smaller items it wanted.

Here are some other provisions from the three-year deal approved Monday:

* One time bonuses to make up for time working under an expired agreement must be paid within 60 days of ratification. That puts the payments just in time for Christmas! Perhaps that's also an olive branch to make up for the year teachers went on strike and the district deducted a financial penalty from the paycheck -- right  before the holiday.

* Mileage reimbursement - typically claimed by teachers who work in multiple buildings - will be increased from 31 cents per mile to the IRS rate of 54 cents.

*Teachers will get more money for classroom supplies - $6 per pupil (up from $5) in the first year of the contract. They'll get an additional $2 per student the second year. We suspect teachers will still be digging into their own pockets to supply students.

* The district will contribute $350,000 to a union fund that pays for teachers' dental and vision coverage. It will also increase its annual contribution by $25 per teacher.

*Teachers injured on the job and unable to work qualify for one year of compensation, instead of two

*The district will be able to change the start and end times at schools for the 2018-19 school year. Now, changes must be approved by the staff and union president. Under the change, the start time can't be earlier than 7:50, and the end time can't be later than 4:05.

*Teachers will be required to give 60 calendar days' notice of their retirement in order to receive a $500 payment. This will help the district anticipate its hiring and staffing needs prior to the start of the school year.

*Committees will be created to review athletic programs and class sizes.


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