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Judge's ruling allows for teacher transfers at City Honors

A judge has given Buffalo Public Schools the green light to transfer several teachers out of City Honors School, after a monthslong dispute between the school district and its teachers union.

State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin on Monday paved the way for the teacher transfers by lifting a temporary restraining order and denying a request by the Buffalo Teachers Federation to keep the situation at City Honors status quo.

The teachers federation has argued the transfers are the district's way of “retaliating” against teachers at City Honors, but the judge, in a four-page written decision, said the union has not “set forth sufficient evidence to satisfy the requirements” for an injunction.

BTF President Philip Rumore said he was not surprised by the court's ruling, but threatened the district with more litigation should it try to take action at City Honors again during the upcoming school year.

“We accomplished what we wanted to, which was to prevent the transfers from happening last year," Rumore said. “If they try it again, we’ll be right back in court to prevent it from happening this year.”

The messy labor dispute, which erupted in the middle of the school year with parents and students from City Honors rallying in protest, stems from a long-held understanding that City Honors teachers were excused from non-teaching duties, such as monitoring lunch and study halls.

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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 February, in order to comply with the court order, the district hired 16 aides to perform those non-teaching duties at City Honors and notified teachers it would eliminate 5.5 positions to afford the $571,000 in salaries and benefits for the aides.

The targeted teachers – in English, math, band and orchestra – would be transferred to another school. An instructional coach also was targeted, as was a half of a school counselor position.

The court, however, granted the union a temporary restraining order, which prevented the transfer of those teachers – until the judge lifted the order on Monday.

Nathaniel J. Kuzma, general counsel for the school district, said he was “very pleased” by the judge’s ruling, which gives the district the right to make transfers based on the extra burden placed on the school's budget for having to relieve teachers of non-teaching duties. It also provides "some clarity to the district as we head into next school year," Kuzma said.

Both sides are still in arbitration on the matter.

The School Board approved a budget for next year based on eliminating a total of 5 positions at City Honors. That includes cutting a math teacher, two new positions that were slated for the upcoming year and reducing hours for an instructional coach, an orchestra teacher, a band teacher and an English language arts teacher. Thirteen aides will be hired for next year, not 16.

"I think the board is going to have to take a look at it, at this point," School Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold said Monday. "I have just gotten the information this afternoon and I haven't had the opportunity to speak to the superintendent. I'm sure we will have some discussion on it at our next board meeting."

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