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Buffalo Schools win wage freeze appeal

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By Joyce Kryszak

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-960429.mp3

Buffalo, NY – The Buffalo School District has won an appeal over a former city wage freeze. The state Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city and District in the case against the wage freeze.

The ruling means the City and school district will not have to pay salary steps employees lost during a three-year wage freeze imposed by the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority.

And that leaves the District with a surprise roughly $74 million surplus.

The District had set the money aside in case they lost the appeal. The nest egg was particularly ironic given that the district was facing up to 500 staffing cuts because of pending state aid cuts.

But Buffalo School District Superintendent James Williams said the ruling does not necessarily mean the district will use the money to mitigate those cuts. He said the surplus could vanish quickly.

"We still have the structural problems - of healthcare, the pensions, and charter school payments - that will cost us anywhere from $35 million to $40 million each year," said Williams.

Williams said the school board will have to decide the best way - or combination of ways - to spend the money. A plan is expected to emerge at next week's school board meeting.

While the school district and control board are applauding the victory, Buffalo Teachers Federal President Phil Rumore is outraged.

"The impact on our newer teachers who will three steps behind for the rest of their careers is probably over $100,00 and the impact on people who retire is for the rest of their lives," said Rumore.

Rumore said the teachers union is not giving up its fight and plans to take the fight back to federal court. But School Board President Ralph Hernandez hopes not. He said some of the money could be used to persuade the union to return to the negotiating table instead.

"And have some discussions with us about the future of their front-line folks and, hopefully, put together a solid - and fair - collective bargaining agreement," said Hernandez.

All but three of the districts unions have been without contracts since 2004.