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City Honors dispute heads back to court, as fight is taken to School Board

The battle over teacher cuts at City Honors School continued on two fronts Wednesday.

On one end, the Buffalo Teachers Federation obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent the Buffalo Public Schools from removing six teachers from City Honors until a judge can hear the case. That's scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

On the other end, City Honors parents trekked to City Hall Wednesday to voice their frustrations to the Board of Education.

More than 100 people piled into Council Chambers, where, one by one, nearly two dozen students and parents begged the board not to make the teacher cuts – especially during the middle of the school year. It would hurt the school, they said, and devastate its music program.

Nicholas Penchaszadeh, City Honors parent, said: "I implore everyone to come to their senses. Don’t do this to our children in the middle of the school year ... This makes no sense."

Eliot Solomon, City Honors junior class president, said: "I understand the issues we are dealing with today are complex, but I desperately don’t want some of our best teachers to be taken away from us."

Adrienne Romanowicz, City Honors parent, said: "We want the board and we want the BTF to come to resolution on this issue ... It's getting us nowhere to continue to point fingers at each other."

It worked.

An hour and a half later, board members urged both the district and the teachers' union to return to the bargaining table.  They suggested both sides ask the judge Thursday for more time to resolve the labor dispute over the summer so as not to disrupt the school year.

"That's the solution I would like to see happen," said School Board member Larry Quinn.

"It's going to hurt the children in a detrimental way and we don't want that to happen," said board member Hope Jay.

The district and the union are at odds over non-teaching duties at City Honors.

The district wants teachers at City Honors to handle such responsibilities as monitoring lunch and study hall – like teachers at every other Buffalo school. Meanwhile, teachers at the school, who have long been exempt from those duties, fought the district based on their prior agreement – and won.

Now, the district - under court orders - has 16 hired aides to perform those non-teaching duties at City Honors, but plans to cut 5.5 teaching positions at the school to pay for them. Cuts would include a math teacher, English teacher, instructional coach and two music teachers as well as reducing hours for a guidance counselor.

Both sides have exchanged proposals and counterproposals to prevent the teacher cuts, but there has been no resolution.

The district said it would assign those teachers to fill vacancies at other schools by Feb. 28.

But those actions have now been put on hold.

Justice John F. O’Donnell Wednesday signed an order to show cause submitted by the teachers' union to prevent the transfers until the court can rule on a grievance by the teachers concerning those actions.

 

City Honors parents rally to save teaching positions

 

The pleas from City Honors parents and students Wednesday also made an impact on the School Board.

The meeting was an emotional one, moving some City Honors students to tears as they spoke about losing their teacher, as well as the band and orchestra program. A group of students even showed the board what the music program has meant to them by singing a song.

Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, and her husband Marc Panepinto, parents of a City Honors student, both were among those who spoke at the meeting. They questioned the need for 16 aides at the school and criticized administrators at the school. Nugent-Panepinto is a state Supreme Court justice.

While it is a dispute between the district and union, missing in this conversation has been the voices of all 88 teachers at the school, said James Reddin, a City Honors parent. Reddin said at the meeting he has heard from teachers that, as a whole, they have not been able to vote on the district's last offer.

"We want the teachers to be anonymously and fairly surveyed on this topic to allow for an unbiased view of teachers' voices," Reddin said.

By the end of the night, Superintendent Kriner Cash indicated he, too, is open to sitting down again to settle this matter with the teachers union – but said there is going to have to be some compromise.

"I bet with the intellectual capital we heard today we can solve this," Cash told students and parents. "Let's sit down. I'm willing to do it and I'm willing to do it soon."

"I agree with my colleagues," said Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold. "We need to come back to the table."

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

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