ALBANY - The influence of the teachers union in the politics of Buffalo Public Schools emerged as a main theme in the second day of testimony in the hearing to remove Carl P. Paladino from the Board of Education.
Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore testified, and Paladino's attorneys pressed him on his role in the May 2016 school board races and whether he waited until after the election to finalize negotiations for a new teacher contract.
"His testimony was bought and paid for with that contract," said attorney Dennis Vacco, who represents Paladino. "He made it very clear that the six people who are the petitioners in this case were all supported by him, and NYSUT and his union in the last election."
The teacher contract has become central to the case because those seeking Paladino's removal from the board say he violated board policy when he disclosed confidential information about negotiations several months after the contract was settled. Paladino's attorneys asked several witnesses questions about the financial impact of the agreement on the district, and originally a member of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority - which monitors school spending - was expected to testify.
Vacco also pressed Rumore about whether he had threatened an illegal strike, something Paladino has argued pressured Superintendent Kriner Cash to cave into the demands of the union.
But unlike Thursday, when Paladino's team seemed to catch School Board President Barbara Nevergold off guard with their questioning, Rumore proved to be a formidable opponent.
The union president answered many of Vacco's questions by saying he did not remember or did not know the answer.
"I don't remember," he said at one point. "I honestly don't remember."
"I really don't know," he said in response to another question.
Rumore denied ever explicitly threatening a strike, and said he did not know why Cash told The Buffalo News he would "be ready" should the teachers go on one.
"You'll have to ask him," he said of Cash's comments.
Attorneys from both sides also questioned Rumore on his decision to call a meeting of all teachers for October 17, publicly stating he wanted to have a contract for teachers to ratify at that point - or that teachers would have to consider their other options.
When asked what he meant by that, Rumore replied he couldn't predict how teachers might have directed him to act.
"You never know what's going to happen when you get people together," he said. "I can't control what the teachers want."