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Editorial: District should move ahead on stalemate at City Honors

Who was the winner in Monday’s ruling by an arbitrator in the dispute between the Buffalo Public Schools and the Buffalo Teachers Federation over a labor dispute at City Honors School? This one is too close to call, but the district is right to move ahead with its plans.

The arbitrator decreed that the school district has to rescind its decision to transfer teachers out of City Honors and bring them back to the school. The district, however, says the ruling applies to the 2017-18 school year, making it moot. Transfers were made over the summer for the current school year.

Philip Rumore, president of the teachers’ federation, doesn’t see it that way. “We will sue to have this enforced,” he said.

The correct answer to that from the district would be: We’ll see you in court.

The threat of further litigation should not deter the BPS from standing firm. A school district with a budget of nearly $900 million has the right to make personnel decisions without waiting for the blessing of the union chief.

The dispute flared eight years ago. It was a longtime practice at City Honors for teachers to be excused from non-teaching duties, a unique arrangement in the public schools. The district traditionally hired aides for non-teaching duties at the school until 2010, when it assigned the duties to teachers.

The BTF filed a grievance, which was settled in 2016 by an arbitrator who sided with the union. That ruling was upheld in State Supreme Court.

To comply with the court order, the district in February hired 16 aides to perform the non-teaching duties at City Honors. In order to afford the new aides – whose salaries and benefits amounted to $571,000 – the district notified the teachers it would eliminate 5.5 positions at the school, transferring teachers elsewhere.

The union obtained a restraining order, which prevented the teachers from being moved and disrupting things in the middle of last school year.

In July, State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin lifted the restraining order, allowing the teacher transfers to proceed. Early this month, Devlin again turned down a last-ditch effort by the BTF to block the transfers before school opened.

As noted in this space before, the district and Superintendent Kriner Cash cannot afford to have their hands tied by the BTF when it comes to budgetary decisions, not in a district with a deficit of more than $8 million.

The union succeeded in keeping City Honors teachers exempt from noninstructional duties, such as locker room and lunch room supervision, which teachers in the district’s other schools are forced to perform. The district hired aides to do the extra work, but labor is not free. The transfer of five teachers from the school has been done, and the arbitrator’s ruling is not likely to undo it.

Rumore thinks otherwise, so another round of court proceedings is highly likely. As of now, the only clear winners here are the lawyers adding up their billable hours.

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