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Substitute teachers, Peacemakers pressure Buffalo School Board for money

One by one, they came to City Hall to get a few minutes before the Buffalo Board of Education.

And one by one on Wednesday, they asked for the same thing:

Money.

A couple of dozen people gave the School Board an earful during a board meeting, most of them representing three separate groups involved in the schools: substitute teachers, parents and Buffalo Peacemakers.

"You know all about our works yet we're still here fighting for funding," said Murray Holman of Buffalo Peacemakers. "Why?"

Buffalo Peacemakers, a violence and gang intervention program, has for the past four years provided safe passage for students by placing volunteers at several key intersections throughout the city after school.

While the program started on a volunteer basis, it has evolved and become costly, said Rev. Dan Schifeling, chair of the group's advisory committee.

Mayor Byron W. Brown gave $35,000 to the group this year, Holman said.

The group is asking the school district to match it.

"We're hoping this year we can get that support from you," Schifeling told the board.

Substitutes United of Buffalo also showed up Wednesday evening, demanding a new contract from the School Board. The last one expired in June 2012.

"You're going to lose a lot of subs if they can't get paid," said Shirley Sapp-Burgess, a substitute teacher, "and we shouldn’t have to fight five years for a contract."

"A pay raise for us recognizes we are skilled professionals," said Rona Paul, another substitute teacher. "We are there to serve and we wish to be compensated as a professional."

The School Board heard complaints for discontinuing its parent facilitator program - at least in the present format - after an Internal Revenue Service audit concluded the facilitators couldn't be considered paid consultants.

The District Parent Coordinating Council in 2008 worked with the district to create the program, which placed a parent in each school to serve as a bridge between school staff and parents.

Parent facilitators were paid a stipend of $300 a month for 10 months and the money has been budgeted for this school year, but the more than 58 facilitators were informed during a meeting Sept. 25 that the program was ending.

"It was done abruptly and without real notice. We were asked to come in for a meeting and the meeting turned into a termination," said Cassaundra Yancey, a parent facilitator. "In all honesty, they should be paid a little more than they are being paid. It's not a burden, but it's time-consuming and that time should be compensated for."

"The main thing we want to raise tonight is concern how this came about," said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the parent group. "We had a plan, parents were interviewed, they were oriented and they signed a contract. Then, all of a sudden, we're not doing it. It wasn't clear to everybody what was going on."

After the comments, Superintendent Kriner Cash addressed the groups.

Cash said he expects to reach a new contract with the substitute teachers union in the near future and plans to meet with parent facilitators and Buffalo Peacemakers in hopes of coming to some resolution.

"We're going to have a meeting soon with me and the peacemakers. We need to have a two-way dialogue," Cash said. "This shouldn't be all about money. We can give you $35,000 but we need to expand the conversation."

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