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District, union battling over use of extra 25 minutes in school day

Less than a year since the two sides worked out a new contract to end a 12-year impasse, the Buffalo Public Schools and its teachers union are back at it — this time over what time kids have to go to class and what they do when they are there.

The district and the Buffalo Teachers Federation, as part of the teachers contract settled last year, agreed to tack on an additional 25 minutes to the school day starting in September. But the two sides haven't seen eye to eye on how that should happen, with the union unhappy with how teachers are being required to use those additional 25 minutes.

And in a related matter, the BTF has filed a lawsuit against the district for unilaterally changing to a later start time at three schools: D'Youville Porter Campus School, a pre-K to 8 school on Porter Avenue; Dr. Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School, a grade 3 to 8 school in Martin Luther King Jr. Park; and Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence, a pre-K to 8 school on Appenheimer Street.

"That’s not what the faculty wants or what the parents want," said Philip Rumore, BTF president.

The new contract calls for adding 25 minutes to the school day during the 2017-18 school year, while giving the district the ability to change start and ending times the following year, in 2018-19.

The three schools in question, however, are in "receivership," which means they are under direct control of Superintendent Kriner Cash, who has unprecedented powers to turn them around.

So, Cash decided to change the start times at the three schools in September.

The union countered by filing a lawsuit.

The union argued the district's decision to change the start times at the three schools was not about improving student performance, but instead, about saving money — and that falls outside its authorization under the state receivership law.

The district acknowledges the move will save about $4 million in transportation costs.

"There was a savings, but that was not the primary reason this was done," said Nathaniel Kuzma, school district counsel.

Instead, the move better aligns bus schedules and assures there are enough drivers and buses to accommodate the extra 25 minutes at schools across the district, Kuzma said.

The start time at D'Youville and Lydia Wright would be pushed back about an hour, from roughly 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. The start time at Charles Drew would only be pushed back about five minutes, Kuzma said.

"If we didn't do what we did, there would have been a capacity issue in terms of transporting our students," Kuzma said.

The union also is trying to make the case that the terms of receivership were granted while under the old teacher contract. Buffalo teachers received a new pact last fall. Therefore, the union argues, the district would need consent from the state education commissioner to make any modifications — like this one — under the new contract.

The two sides already have had a hearing before State Supreme Court Justice Tracey A. Bannister. Based on what the judge has said from the bench, both sides expect no change in the start times at the three schools in receivership until the matter is considered by the commissioner.

Meanwhile, the related issue of the extra 25 minutes is brewing between the union and district just weeks before the start of school.

The district has been notifying parents that the additional 25 minutes will be tacked onto the school day starting in September.

The district, however, wants all of that time to be devoted to classroom instruction. The union wants teachers and administrators at each building to have the ability to decide how best to use that time — whether for instruction, teacher planning or a combination.

The union is expected to file a grievance.

"Each school is different," Rumore said. "They should use it for what they think is the most productive use of the time."

The first day of school for students in Buffalo is Sept. 5.

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