The Last Cut: Buffalo Teachers Agree to Contract After 12-Year Stalemate
A majority of students in Buffalo, New York, were not yet born when the city and its teachers reached an agreement on a contract. However, they grew up in an era of disagreements and standoffs that ensued after the expiration of the 1999 agreement, which included free cosmetic surgery for union members.
Efforts to resolve the situation after the contract ended in 2004 were met with mistrust from the union, leading to bitter negotiations and the longest deadlock in New York history in terms of public-sector collective bargaining.
This stalemate came to an end on Monday night, when the school board approved a deal that both Superintendent Kriner Cash and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore deemed a fair compromise. Despite the difficult history of Buffalo and the adversarial atmosphere among supporters of both sides, Cash and Rumore were able to work together.
This new agreement may be a positive step forward in the segregated Rust Belt city, where only 16 percent of students read at their appropriate grade level and educational politics often cause divisions.
Cash, who previously served as a district leader in Memphis and arrived in Buffalo last year with a transformative plan, acknowledged the power of the teachers union. He stated that they were accustomed to getting what they wanted and emphasized the importance of improving relationships with teachers.
Among the changes in the new contract, which was approved by a 7-2 board vote, is the removal of the controversial cosmetic surgery benefit, saving the district approximately $5 million annually.
Rumore explained that the union retained this benefit in exchange for negotiating salaries that would be more competitive with neighboring communities. The new contract also includes an immediate 10 percent pay increase for teachers, followed by a 2 percent raise each year for the next two years. The district will establish a committee dedicated to addressing the issue of reducing class sizes, which the union believes is essential to enhancing student performance.
Additionally, the school day will be extended by 25 minutes, and the school year will be lengthened by two days. While teachers previously received free health insurance, they will now have to pay a fixed rate for coverage, although it is less than the 10 percent rate that the district initially sought.
Barbara Seals Nevergold, the school board president, highlighted that Buffalo was the only school district in the area that did not require teachers to contribute to healthcare costs under the old contract.
Rumore regarded the agreement as a "win-win" for both the district and teachers, stating that most educators supported the new provisions. Although some teachers expressed their discontent during a union meeting, ultimately, 95 percent of those present voted in favor of ratification.
Rumore, who has served as the president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation for many years and negotiated the expired contract, emphasized the importance of Cash’s involvement, unlike his predecessors. He expressed his satisfaction with the working relationship they have developed and looks forward to collaborating on initiatives that benefit students, which is their primary mission.
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