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Buffalo schools and the teachers union are at verbal war again, as contract talks seem stalled

Buffalo Schools Superintendent Tonja Williams and her bargaining team
Mike Desmond
Buffalo Schools Superintendent Tonja Williams and her bargaining team

It’s verbal war again, as Buffalo public schools and the BTF bargain on a new contract. Schools Superintendent Tonja Williams told a news conference on Wednesday, ten of the district’s 11 unions have new contracts. The other is the BTF.

Now, the superintendent is angry that the union wants a membership…no confidence…vote on her, 19 weeks into the job. With a family history in unions and her own history in district unions, Williams says the district has to tell its story.

“As our chief general counsel shared, there is a narrative that went out with that survey and I believe in transparency and honesty, as I shared. Those are at my core values and we needed to share our narrative, also.”

General Counsel Nathaniel Kuzma says union proposals would put the district into insolvency and BTF bargainers didn’t seem interested in dealing with management proposals. The issues in the fight were predictable before talks started and BTF President Phil Rumore’s list of problem issues matches Kuzma’s list, detailed to reporters.

“Bell times. Athletic coaches. Health insurance. No response, meaningful response, substantive response or feedback. If you don’t like the bell time proposal, what can be changed to make that work? What can we change in terms of our proposal to make that work? You don’t like our athletic coaching proposal, what can we change to make that work. Where we could be go with health insurance?”

There are substantial pay increases proposed, including a decrease in the number of pay increase steps which would bring teachers to top pay several years quicker. Rumore objects to bonuses which won’t go into future pensions and the issue of retiree health insurance has been expensive and explosive for years.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.