Buffalo schools take aim at controversial maintenance contract

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The era of the horse and buggy is something Buffalo students get to read about in their history books, but when it comes to maintaining school buildings and grounds, the old ways are as up to date as students’ smartphones.

A practice in Buffalo Public Schools dating back to the 19th Century is still in place for hiring building engineers to keep each schools clean and in good condition. At the same time, the engineers also receive generous stipends, as independent contractors to hire custodians, and buy whatever supplies and equipment are necessary to get the job done.

Buffalo Public Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Geoffrey Pritchard said on average, the engineers receive a base salary of about 45,000 dollars a year, and receive an annual stipend of $300,000 depending on certain factors.

Any money that is not spent, Pritchard said, the engineers get to keep, but there is little to no accounting for how the money is used.  

“We don’t know whether the amounts that they receive really correspond to the facility that they have because some of it is opaque, we don’t actually see that.” 

The engineers are members of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 409, and Pritchard said the union contends the engineers do not have to account for how the money is spent, “Contractually they have never been required to provide that information to us.”

District officials are now in negotiations with Local 409, which has not had a new contract since 2010, and the district is trying to modernize and streamline the maintenance arrangement.

BPS General Council Nathaniel Kuzma said , the Buffalo Board of Education has approved the hiring of an outside group, the Council of Great City Schools to come up with the answers.

“What is the best, most efficient way to get the job done, from a fiscal perspective, but also in the best interests of our schools.  We want our schools to be clean safe places for our students to go to school.”

Kuzma said the Council is studying BPS’ school maintenance procedures and is expected to present its recommendations by late May. 

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