“Fair contract now”: Buffalo teachers walk out of school board meeting
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Tensions neared a breaking point between Buffalo teachers and the school board at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting. This was the first update from the school board since the 2022-23 year began in early September.
Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) President Phil Rumore was the first person from the public to address Superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams and the Board of Education. He said hundreds of union members picketed before the meeting on E. Ferry Street outside of the School of Visual and Performing Arts. Teachers have been working without a new deal for three years. The school district said it has proposed a fair deal.
To the chant of ‘fair contract now’, Rumore, along with dozens of teachers, left the meeting before hearing the rest of the public comment or the district’s response. General Counsel Nate Kuzma spoke later in the meeting, addressing some of the union’s concerns.
The teachers’ union threatened a vote of no confidence in the superintendent and the district if a new deal is not agreed upon in two weeks. The district says there needs to be negotiation from both sides.
Rumore said his teachers are angry and frustrated.
“There will be a vote of no confidence in the Superintendent and the Board of Education,” Rumore said. “We don’t want to do this.”
He also said the union will participate in the impartial fact-finding process that begins in October.
“There’s some give and there’s some take on both sides. You can’t storm wall people and say you two weeks and you kind of have to agree to whatever we say,” Superintendent Williams said.
In response to Rumore, Counsel Kuzma presented a lengthy PowerPoint, detailing what each side proposed in the bargaining process so far. He said he wanted this to go on the record and that it was rare for this information to be made public.
“We heard a lot of name calling. We heard threats. We heard timelines,” Kuzma said. “But what we didn’t hear was any substance.”
The bargaining for the new contract took center stage, despite concerns for transportation and security. Many speakers, after the walk-out, addressed it, including fourth grader Kaminah Williams, who said she was upset by the teachers leaving in that way.
“If a student walked out of the classroom mad and upset, they would get in trouble for walking out of the classroom when the teacher is speaking,” Williams said.
Parents and residents were also concerned about safety and security just eight days after a student was stabbed in the bathroom with a steak knife at the Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management.
“All of the sudden security was heightened for a couple of days and the line was out the door. They got wanded like never before,” parent Janate Williams said. “Three days later when I was standing there again, that was not the same.”
Superintendent Williams has said one of her primary goals is to keep students safe.
“It has to be safe for everyone. For the parents, especially for our children,” she added.