BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) and the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) are still at odds over the contract negotiations. Last week, an independent, third-party fact-finder released a report, outlining what he thinks is a fair deal.
On Wednesday, the Board of Education voted on a resolution to accept the report and to encourage the negotiating team from BPS to move forward with the proposal outlined by the third-party arbitrator. The vote was 8-0 with one board member excused from the meeting.
The BTF rejected the report last Tuesday, just one day after it was released. A survey among its teachers shows they also rebuff the findings. According to the BTF, 66 percent of teachers support the negotiating team’s rejection of the report, about 27 percent do not support the rejection and 7 percent abstained.
“The teachers rejected the fact finder report and the board accepted it. Now what we have to do is what we always do, work together to come to an agreement that’s important for our kids,” BTF President Phil Rumore said.
“I’m sorry that they feel that it’s not enough,” Board President Sharon Belton-Cottman said.
Belton-Cottman also said the report calls for a 21 percent raise for teachers this year and as she reflected on raises in her own career, she said to “put her down” for that type of wage increase.
The district’s general counsel, Nathaniel Kuzma, presented for more than 20 minutes regarding the report, what he believes it calls for and how he thinks the district should move forward in negotiations. He underscored his commitment to getting a deal done soon, but says the ball is in the union’s court to meet them at the table.
“We feel very strongly that the fact finders report and recommendations is a generous, fair and competitive package to our teachers,” Kuzma said. “We’re saying this is a deal that should get done. I think we are just as perplexed as to why it’s not as the rest of Western New York is..”
All negotiations go through the Board of Education, but up until this point, it hasn’t commented on the dispute. There is no representation of the school board at the bargaining table. Now, the board says it was time to weigh in.
“This particular one was aired in public and the board chose not to speak out until this point and we’re available now to move forward,” Belton-Cottman added.
Some of the sticking points include raise increases for new teachers, school start times, hiring experienced coaches and adding more mental health resources for students.
“I think that we’re willing to sit down, work with the district. We’re coming from different positions, see if we can close the gap and I’m sure we can,” Rumore added.
Dr. Kathy Evans-Brown, who represents the East District on the board, commented on her experience as a teacher in the district and says the contract dispute can be distracting to educators.
“I can’t even imagine being focused as a teacher having a contract that has not been negotiated since 2019,” Dr. Evans-Brown said.
Teachers have been working without a new deal since 2019, but they are hoping to reach a deal now.
“I would expect that there would be a settlement before July. I mean July 1 is just too far. I would hope that we could wrap this up in a month,” Rumore concluded.
Robert Reden, an arbitrator from Buffalo, mediated this process and issued a 22-page report detailing several recommendations should negotiations continue. The multi-month investigation included both parties presenting four key issues, evidence for their positions on the issues and meetings with the Reden. On Jan. 30, he released his findings.
The negotiating teams from BPS and BTF will meet Thursday to discuss the fact-finding document and on Tuesday, Feb. 14, they return to the bargaining table.
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.