BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Bickering at the bargaining table continues and there is still no contract for teachers in Buffalo Schools. The nearly four-year contract clash between the district and its teachers union came to a head Wednesday night. The school board says it has given its final offer on a new contract, but the union still has concerns.
Buffalo Public Schools and the Buffalo Teachers Federation say they agree on many contract items, including salary and healthcare for current teachers. The district says there is one more main sticking point: eliminating retiree health insurance.
“This is the extent of what we can do,” Nate Kuzma, general counsel for Buffalo Public Schools, said. “This is a priority the board said and this is something we’ve done with 6 other unions and for good reason. It’s not a benefit that anybody else provides to their teachers.”
“We are waiting for a response from you folks to our counter offer that we made on Blue Cross Blue Shield for retirees,” Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, responded.
Board of education members were visibly frustrated, even leaving the meeting to digest what happened.
“I need you to put pressure like we put pressure on Nate, on your folks as well to make sure this gets done,” Jennifer Mecozzi, west district board member, said.
“When we look at what Buffalo’s trying to do and have it thrown in our face. I’m disappointed. I really am disappointed,” Buffalo Board of Education President Sharon Belton-Cottman added before stepping into the hallway for a quick break.
Teachers picketed before the meeting on Niagara Street and Porter Avenue. Counsel Kuzma said that rally sent a clear message to the district that the union is not ready to reach a deal. Teachers say they just want a fair contract now.
“I believe we teach equity for our students and there should be equity for our teachers as well,” Colleen O’Rourke, a teacher at International Preparatory School #198, said.
“Really more the respect and acknowledgement of what we deserve compared to other districts,” Dave Gemco, a teacher at International Preparatory School #198, said.
“I think everytime we get closer we make 2 steps forward and then one step back and it just feels like we get excited that we are going to have a contract and there’s nothing,” Mary Favata, a teacher at International Preparatory School #198, said.
Superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams made a prepared statement before the presentations by Counsel Kuzma and President Rumore. She says she hopes a fair deal can be reached soon and she believes a deal can be made.
The district says if there is no deal by July 1, teachers will have to wait another year before they can reap the financial benefits. The district added there are no additional negotiation dates scheduled at this time.
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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.