Here we go again. The most dysfunctional labor-management relationship in – what? Our half of the Milky Way? – is threatening to ruin even more students’ lives and end even more teaching careers. A psychiatrist could have a field day here.
Here’s what has happened just in the past few days. After losing a ruling on teachers the Buffalo Public School District had transferred to other schools, Superintendent Pamela C. Brown offered those teachers – 106 of them – $2,500 each if they would accept those transfers. The Buffalo Teachers Federation summarily rejected the offer and made no counteroffer.
Because of those transfers, the BTF is also refusing to negotiate a new deal on teacher evaluations. Without that agreement, the district stands to lose $58.7 million in state and federal funds. To forgo those funds – some earmarked for the district’s lowest-performing schools – would be “devastating,” Brown said. Layoffs would be significant while thousands of students would be threatened with another year of lost opportunities.
The union and its president, Philip Rumore, do not care. Individual teachers certainly care – those who want to improve the lives of their students and those who may lose their jobs over this craziness – but the union cares about itself.
That is not to say that the circumstances aren’t convoluted. They are. The district was forced to transfer the teachers to preserve $5.1 million in badly needed turnaround funding from the federal government. It was the only model that was both acceptable to the state and quickly achievable.
The district did what it had to do to secure the funds, but set up a confrontation with the union, which said the involuntary transfers violated the contract. An arbitrator and then a judge agreed, but the city has appealed, which leaves the transfers in place and Rumore’s nose out of joint.
What is certain is that no responsible actor in this horror story can simply sit and await the blade’s descent. The best outcome for students, teachers and the community is for the district and union to negotiate a settlement over the teacher transfers. It’s the obvious solution. If $2,500 isn’t enough, what would be?
Move the teachers back and the district loses $5.1 million. Refuse to negotiate an evaluation agreement and the district loses more than 10 times that amount. The solution is for grown-ups to talk.
It would be helpful if the union were to make a counteroffer, but it hasn’t and that decision is fully in Rumore’s hands. Given the satisfaction he seems to derive from making life more difficult than it needs to be, it’s hard to be optimistic about the prospects.
What is undeniably true is that this is a new day for New York’s education system. The state and federal governments are demanding changes and so are parents. Children are being left behind by the thousands despite some of the nation’s highest per-pupil costs.
Other unions in other New York districts are reaching agreements on these issues. Buffalo, in the death grip of 1930s-style unionism, is being left behind. And the union doesn’t care.