Buffalo schools and its teachers union are further apart than originally thought in resolving the dispute over City Honors teachers being assigned “non-teaching” duties.
Both sides hoped to strike a deal, but an exchange of proposals and counter proposals in recent weeks have gone nowhere.
Instead, the school district has begun to implement a plan that it had hoped to avoid: Cutting roughly a half dozen teachers from the school on East North Street.
That would free up money to pay aides to handle routine duties at the school, such as monitoring the cafeteria and supervising study halls. But the loss of those teachers will create other problems, like larger class sizes and the elimination of some electives. Student schedules will need to be rebuilt.
Attorneys for the school district and the Buffalo Teachers Federation were in State Supreme Court on Wednesday to update the judge on where things stood.
Even as the school district has started initiating its plan at City Honors, both sides left the door ajar for an amicable resolution.
“If there’s willingness on both sides to strike a deal – and certainly we’ve been willing – that possibility still exists,” said Nathaniel Kuzma, general counsel for the Buffalo Public Schools.
“We made a proposal to settle this and we’re waiting for the district to respond,” said Philip Rumore, BTF president. “We hope that there can be a settlement, but in light of the district’s last proposal, we’re not sure.”
This latest labor dispute stems from a long-held practice at City Honors, where teachers were excused from non-teaching duties. No other school in the district has that arrangement.
The district traditionally hired aides to take on non-teaching duties at the school, known for its rigorous International Baccalaureate program that stresses higher standards and critical thinking, but eliminated the practice in 2010 and assigned the duties to teachers.
The union filed a grievance, which was settled in 2016 by an arbitrator who sided with the BTF. It was upheld in State Supreme Court when challenged by the school district.
To settle the dispute, the school district offered teachers at City Honors $1,000 for each year they performed non-teaching duties during the seven-year period awaiting a resolution to their grievance – but only if teachers agreed to handle non-teaching duties moving forward. The district also agreed to give teachers only one non-teaching duty and not to reduce the teaching ranks at the school.
The union, in return, stipulated duties teachers wouldn’t perform, including hall sweeps and recycling duty. The union did agree to lunch and study hall duty, but proposed it be on a voluntary basis and that teachers receive a stipend of roughly $3,000 for monitoring a lunch period during the school year.
Each side has countered, but there’s been no movement. The last proposal from the union was to delay any teacher cuts and transfers at City Honors and use a mediator to help settle the dispute.
The court appearance on Wednesday was a conference in chambers with State Supreme Court Justice John F. O'Donnell to demonstrate to the judge that the district is complying with orders to strip non-teaching duties from City Honors teachers. The district did that this week, Kuzma said.
The school district has added 16 aides at City Honors at a cost of $571,000 in salaries and benefits. In order to pay for the new aides, the district will cut 5.5 teaching positions from the school. Those cuts are in English, math, band and orchestra. An instructional coach also will be cut, as well as a half of a school counselor position, parents were told by the school Wednesday.
The teachers cut from City Honors will be transferred to other district schools with vacancies.
Those teachers have already been informed and will begin their new assignments at other schools as of Feb. 27, parents were told.