BUFFALO, N.Y. — "Our council of delegates were so outraged by some of the proposals that they wanted to go to the teachers," said Phil Rumore, explaining a letter he sent to Buffalo teachers last week. "What we wanted the teachers to see is what the district's position was."
Rumore is the president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. In his letter, Rumore outlined a number of proposals the district put on the table during contract negotiations, so far. Namely, a proposal to remove a mandate for art, music, and physical education for kindergarten through sixth grade.
This wording, the district proposed to be removed, specifies how many days a week these classes will be taught and who teaches them: the class teacher or a specialist.
If the section is removed, the union worries the ambiguity will allow the burden of teaching art, music, and physical education to fall on the classroom teachers.
"Why would you want to take it out of the contract?" questioned Rumore. "You know? They didn't even give us a salary proposal. So, I think the bottom line is that their proposal is very clear. Remove art, music and physical education... they're trying to backtrack on it now, but fine... we'll see what they say in writing."
We checked with the New York State Education Department and although they did not immediately return our phone call, their website shows state regulations require a certain amount of this specialized education per week, per grade level.
But Rumore says removing the section of the contract will affect quality of education.
2 On Your Side reached out to the Buffalo Public Schools for their response.
"We've certainly made our intentions clear behind some of the proposals and really what it comes down to is cleaning up archaic language," said District Counsel Nathaniel Kuzma. "That's what negotiations are. Make a proposal. The other side comes back to you says, 'We don't like it...here's the reasons. Why can we go in a different direction?' We're certainly open-minded to those types of things, and it's a little shameful that the president of a unit for 40 years, who knows better, is behaving this way one week into starting negotiations."
Another proposal the union is raising red flags about supplies for teachers.
The district proposed removing language from the contract that mandates items be made available to teachers "required for daily teaching responsibilities."
"Maybe it says chalk and teachers don't use chalk anymore," said Rumore. "But why do you have to take the whole section out?"
2 On Your Side asked Rumore how removing this section might affect teachers on a daily basis. His response, "We use that section of the contract because teachers don't have enough supplies. So at least the teacher then can say 'Look,' to the principal, 'We need more supplies.' And what usually happens is that the principal says 'Will you grieve it? so I can get more supplies?' And then we grieve it and we can get the supplies."
Rumore says they're countering the district's proposal with one of their own to increase funding for supplies.
The school district says they have their own concerns regarding the union's proposals, but when we asked Kuzma to elaborate he declined, "Because we're not gonna operate in that fashion."
The Buffalo School District issued this statement to 2 On Your Side Thursday morning:
The District and the Buffalo Teachers Federation began contract negotiations on Wednesday September 25th. Initial proposals were exchanged and reviewed by both parties. The Buffalo Teachers Federation immediately released highly inflammatory disinformation regarding the District's proposals.
As required by The Taylor Law, the District intends to bargain in good faith and will not negotiate publicly, thereby negatively impacting negotiations. Our adherence to this fundamental principle of negotiation does not allow us to say what our proposals contain. We are willing to say that our proposals do not contain what BTF leadership has shared with our valued teachers who work tirelessly on behalf of our students every day.
The Board of Education has demonstrated a commitment to provide greater access, equity, opportunity, and quality to both academics and the arts. The District will continue to execute on the core values of the Education Bargain, which includes rigorous elementary education incorporating reduced class size for early elementary grades, strong community schools, new innovative high schools, extended learning excellence for all our students, services for our neediest children and families, and a new relationship with our teachers. The District will continue to negotiate in good faith in the best interest of our children, while continuing to foster strong, collaborative relationships with our teachers.