BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The negotiations between Buffalo Public Schools and the Buffalo Teachers Federation are set to come to a close.
According to a memo sent to Buffalo teachers from BTF president Philip Rumore on Tuesday, the union believes that it has made “significant progress“ in negotiations and will be able to finalize the contract proposal with the District at a meeting on Friday. The Board of Education will vote on Friday.
A ratification meeting for union members has been scheduled for Monday, April 24 at Kleinhans Music Hall.
“I think it’s time. Our teachers have been without a contract for four years and it’s been our stated goal as a school district that we wanted to get this done and we backed up our words with action,” Nathaniel Kuzma, general counsel for the Buffalo Public School District, told News 4 in an exclusive interview.
Tuesday’s negotiation meeting was a ‘paired down’ session, according to Kuzma. He said he was joined by Superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams, BTF President Rumore and BTF Vice President Rebecca Pordum. They spoke for two and a half hours according to Kuzma.
This was the first time the two groups met in about a month, which comes after a tense board meeting in March. Several board members stepped out of the meeting after it was determined the two sides were at impasse. Sticking points included eliminating retiree healthcare for new teachers and extending the school year by one week.
In Tuesday’s meeting, Kuzma says the framework was created for a tentative agreement, which he calls a historic moment.
“We will be in contract will all 11 of our bargaining partners, which I think is an amazing accomplishment for our school district,” Kuzma said. “I think this will set the stage for Buffalo City School District being a premier place for teachers to continue to work and to come and work, which is what we want.”
According to the memo, additional details will not be released until they have been finalized. A school board meeting is set for Wednesday, where the board will discuss the contract in an executive session.
Buffalo teachers have been working on a contract with the District for nearly four years. The negotiations heated up in the past year, with teachers rallying on multiple occasions last fall.
“Sometimes that is messy and sometimes it gets loud. Sometimes it’s contentious, but every one of those stakeholders has an important voice into how our system is going to look moving forward,” Kuzma added.
In December, teachers voted ‘no confidence’ in superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams. She took over in a permanent role in July after she held the role on an interim basis beginning in March 2022 after the resignation of Dr. Kriner Cash.
Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen, who once sat on the city’s school board, agrees this deal has to get done soon.
“It is about getting this behind us, so that now we can continue to move forward in how not that we adequately educate our children, but how we go above and beyond and school district in the state of New York,” Pridgen said.
Buffalo School Board President Sharon Belton-Cottman would not comment on specifics about the deal, as the board has not been briefed yet. However, she says the board wants this deal settled and for the teachers to have a contract they can be proud of.
BTF President Rumore did not respond to News 4’s request for comment.
The monthly Buffalo Board of Education meeting is slated for Wednesday, April 19 at 5:30 p.m. at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts.
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.
Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.