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City Honors parents rally to save teaching positions

A messy labor dispute that threatens to cut teachers at City Honors School in the midst of the school year has continued with no resolution.

Now, the moms and dads are stepping into the fray.

Fed up that the Buffalo school district and its teachers union have been unable to resolve this latest labor conflict, parents at City Honors have begun to mobilize in hopes of saving about six teaching positions on the chopping block at the school.

Some parents plan to take their frustrations directly to the Buffalo Board of Education during its meeting in City Hall on Wednesday.

“A collective parent voice needs to be heard,” said parent Adrienne Romanowicz. “The clock is ticking and obviously that’s a concern for all of us. We’re hoping if our voices are loud enough, we will get the results we demand and that there be no disruption to our students and our teachers.”

Sean Mahoney plans to be there, too. He picketed alone in the cold on Thursday outside the school on East North Street.

“I’m going to be here from noon to 3 p.m. every day – today, tomorrow, next week,” said Mahoney, another City Honors parent, “as long as it takes to get these people to think about the students and talk to each other.”

City Honors serves more than 1,000 kids in grades 5 through 12. It’s the city’s top-performing school, known for its competitive admissions process and rigorous International Baccalaureate program that stresses higher standards and critical thinking.

Rumblings and rumors have been swirling among the parents for weeks, as the district and union have been unable to settle their differences over “non-teaching” duties.

City Honors to lose teachers in labor dispute over non-teaching duties

The issue stems from a long-held understanding at City Honors that teachers were excused from non-teaching duties, such as monitoring lunch and study halls.

The district traditionally hired aides for non-teaching duties at the school, but eliminated that practice in 2010 and handed over the responsibilities to teachers.

In turn, the union – arguing the district violated a formal agreement – filed a grievance that was settled in 2016. An arbitrator sided with the BTF, a decision upheld in State Supreme Court when challenged by the school district.

In order to comply with the court order, the district last week relieved City Honors teachers from their non-teaching duties and, instead, hired 16 aides to perform those tasks at the school.

The district then notified teachers it would eliminate 5.5 positions to afford the cost of the aides.

“They can’t come up with the money to get through the rest of this year and then sit down and mediate this in the meantime?” said Sarah Robert, a City Honors parent. “Having this happen mid-school year is just disappointing.”

“I guess it comes down to money – which is always the bottom line – but at this point I would have liked to see them put the children first,” said Ameenah Workman, another City Honors parent. “If it had to happen, I wish they could have put it off until the end of the school year.”

The district offered teachers a monetary settlement in exchange for handling non-teaching duties moving forward. The union countered by agreeing to lunch and study hall duty, but proposed that it be on a voluntary basis and that teachers receive an additional stipend for monitoring a lunch period.

Talks have since broken down.

Now, Robert said, it seems the education of the kids at City Honors is a pawn.

"In a very, very cruel game of chicken,” Robert said.

Replacing teachers with aides causes more problems than it solves at City Honors

The cuts are based on seniority in each subject area at the school.

A math and English teacher will be eliminated, as well as an instructional coach. Hours also will be reduced for a guidance counselor.

In addition, two music teachers will be cut, impacting the school’s orchestra and band programs.

"The ripple is wide," said parent Tracy Daub.

Class sizes also will grow, schedules will be rearranged and some electives will be eliminated.

Those teachers will be transferred by Feb. 27 to Buffalo schools where there are vacancies.

"It's disruptive all the way down the chain," Daub said. "It's disruptive to kids in the school, because how class schedules will be shifted around. And then it could be disruptive to whatever children these teachers are transferred to."

Parents, meanwhile, continue to ask questions, like why the school needs 16 aides.

“Certainly there is more talk about it,” Romanowicz said.

Romanowicz is trying to stay away from politics and not place blame on either side. She wants parents to be a voice of reason.

“I get distressed when I see opposing sides demonizing one another," Daub said. "I assume that everybody wants the best for our children."

Romanowicz started organizing parents and invited them to a meeting at her house this week. Her daughter asked how many would attend.

“Maybe 10,” Romanowicz told her.

“But,” Romanowicz said, “when we got over 60 people, it showed us how important this issue is and how we all felt that we could work together to try to find a common ground here – and find a solution.”

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