BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo teachers, who have been working without a new contract for three years, are turning up the heat on the Buffalo Public School district by having members take a vote of no confidence.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation is circulating a survey asking for a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams. On Wednesday, Dr. Williams said at a press conference she is disappointed and calls the vote premature. She has been at the helm of the district for four months, since July 20.
“To take a vote of no confidence after 19 weeks, four months on a job to me feels a bit premature,” Dr. Williams said.
Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore called the district’s last offer insulting. Both sides met at the bargaining table on Monday.
“If they think that their last offer to us was reflective of what our kids and our teachers deserve, that’s sad commentary and they deserve a vote of no confidence,” Rumore said.
Negotiations between the district and the teachers union are dragging on. The last deal between both parties expired in 2019. Due to delays and the COVID-19 pandemic, the union is still without a contract and is working under the previous deal. Ten of the 11 union contracts have been settled in the last year, according to Buffalo Schools, which they say is unprecedented.
The district says it proposed eliminating three salary steps, an eight percent signing bonus, and a 20 percent salary increase over the course of the contract.
“No salary increases for the first three years of the contract and then a one shot bonus. And then the other salary proposals that go on after that and they are nowhere near what the other districts around us are getting,” Rumore said.
BPS General Counsel Nate Kuzma called his proposal fiscally responsible, saying the negotiation team has examined teacher contracts in several districts across Western New York. They believe their proposal is competitive with those deals.
“We’ve studied the other contracts and we know where we need to improve our competitive advantage as we strive to recruit and retain the best teachers possible for our students,” Kuzma said.
The district says the union is unwilling to come to the bargaining table and that the union’s proposal would cost $2 billion.
“We are a poor urban district that is primarily state-funded,” Kuzma said. “Not saying a great teacher isn’t worth that but we have limitations folks.”
Rumore says Buffalo is far behind other suburban districts in the region and this proposal is not enough.
“Well that shows how far behind other districts we are. We’ve made an offer. We’ve lowered our offer. We’re willing to negotiate with you,” Rumore said.
The district and union had an independent fact finder analyze the negotiation process so far. The fact finder is expected to present ideas for a fair deal to both parties on December 13.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation has been picketing outside district buildings before school starts for many weeks. The teachers walked out of the Buffalo Board of Education meeting in September over contract negotiations. The next board of education meeting is December 21.
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.