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New 3-year Buffalo teachers contract tagged at nearly $100M

WBFO's Mike Desmond

It's done. It may have taken more than 12 years, but a teacher contract is finally in place in the Buffalo Public School system. However, Park District School Board Member Carl Paladino is threatening to go to court over being shut down when he wanted answers to questions during a board meeting.

"Yay, we got it!"

That was one of the teachers leaving a ratification session last night at Kleinhans Music Hall, after hours of talk led to what Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore said was an overwhelmingly positive vote in favor of the contract.

Rumore said it is not everything the union might want, but it is a compromise. There are raises in the three-year agreement, but the union also agreed to longer school days and years, as well as more payments for health insurance for active teachers and those who retire.

According to the new agreement, there will also be a lot more classroom time.  

"We've increased two additional school days for a year. It's at 186 now. It'll be at 188 under this contract," said Deputy General Counsel and chief bargainer Nathaniel Kuzma. "And we got a 25-minute increase to the school day. So it's at 6:50 now. It'll be at 7:15 under the new contract. That's two additional weeks of instruction for a year under this collective bargaining agreement if you add up all the time. So it's a substantial giveback in terms of time concession that the union made."

Rumore said the raises toward the top of the salary scale were necessary.

"When all is said and done, the upper end of the salary schedule is where we need to concentrate on because we have to make this a career so that people have something to look forward to," he said. "And I think, overwhelmingly, the teachers said, 'You know something, this isn't all we want,' but I think it's almost unanimous that people said, 'We'll ratify this.'"

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond
Buffalo Teachers Union President Phil Rumore talks with reporters after the Buffalo School Board approved a new teachers contract.

Rumore said the top scale for a teacher will be $96,000 a year at the end of this three-year pact. That is comparable to what the suburban districts are paying, unlike current city teacher salaries.

The pact also gives teachers a back pay bonus and continuing seniority rules, while the district gets an end of the cosmetic surgery rider. Buffalo Public Schools CFO Geoff Pritchard said the contract will not be cheap.

That will eat up district reserves, currently at about $65 million according to staff. However, Pritchard said there may be savings, because there has been a strenuous effort to look at all costs and savings have been found.

Many teachers are not happy about the pact. Teacher Mark Borgioli said it was a balance.

"There's a lot of good points and a lot of bad points. I feel like it was probably pretty fair over all, although we didn't get everything we wanted and that's for sure," Borgioli said. "One of the real sore points was the steps and this is really crushing. To have worked all those years and to have a wage freeze, that was really difficult."

Teacher Joe Iannaccone said the three-hour ratification session on the tentative contract was not enough, since it had been more than 12 years since the last agreement expired.

"Three hours is not very long to take a look at a contract," said Iannaccone.

Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash had made the contract a priority in his New Education Bargain.  He sat in on the bargaining sessions, which Rumore said made the agreement possible. Cash said the contract will help teachers.

"This is the plank that says, 'We want to have a new professional partnership with our teachers, pay them competitively and fairly and make sure that they can do their best work, support them to do their best work every day,'" Cash said. "This agreement does that and more and we're very excited about it."

Both Rumore and Cash said they hope veteran, experienced teachers do not see this contract as a reason to retire. Instead, there is hope they will see it as a way to stay and keep good teachers in the classrooms.

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.