The Buffalo Teachers Federation 2000 Contract: Summary of Provisions Jason A.

Zwara

The Contract The contract between the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) and the Buffalo Board of Education (the Board) was last negotiated in 2000. Despite the fact that the contract envisions being re-negotiated by 2004 (see Article XLII), the same contract has been extended for another seven years. This creates problems right from the outset, as will be shown throughout this summary. Many of the key provisions will be summarized below; however an initial recommendation would simply be to increase the importance of renegotiation to ensure that a new contract is agreed to, at least within a short period of time after the expiration of the existing contract. Because so many provisions of the contract firmly entrench established practices, consistent and timely renegotiation is essential to ensuring that innovation and flexibility can be accommodated. When considering the summaries below, it is important to keep this fact in mind. The longer the period in between contract negotiations, the more entrenched certain practices become. The Consistent Presence and Involvement of the BTF One consistent theme of the contract is the steady presence of the BTF and its representatives in the decision making process of the Board. While the BTF is included in certain procedures where it serves as direct counsel to a teacher, such as in the grievance procedures (see Article V1), the contract ensures that the BTF is engaged in the decision making process of the Board. For example: the BTF is guaranteed two seats at all School Board meetings2 and, upon request, given priority on the agenda3; the Board is required to engage the BTF in budget planning and decisions on use of state and federal funding4; the BTF and the Board are expected

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For example, a grievance filed by the BTF on behalf of an individual or group of teachers is given priority (Art. V, §D). Note that a teacher is not required to file a grievance through the BTF, and is permitted to process the grievance on their own (see Art. V, §C(1)); however, once the BTF becomes involved, the contract compels strict notice requirements on the Board. Additionally, a teacher is only permitted to engage in Level One (adjustment and informal discussion) without a BTF representative: if the teacher wishes to appeal and adverse outcome they must rely on the BTF to carry out Levels Two through Four. 2 See Art. VI, §G. 3 See Art. VI, §H. 4 See Art. VII, §B-C.

to make joint decisions on selecting all teaching equipment and educational tools5; the BTF and Board shall be jointly engaged in the development of the teacher evaluation system6; the BTF shall be represented on any committee formed to develop “quality integrated education” programs7; and the BTF shall have an equal say in selecting teachers for sabbatical leaves.8 All of these provisions establish a school governance structure that cannot function without the agreement of, and mandates input from, the BTF. On most committees where BTF representation is contractually required, they are guaranteed equal seats to the Board’s representatives. In those few places where they are not guaranteed an equal voice to the Board, they are nonetheless guaranteed a voice over other interested parties, including parent groups.9 Thus, even beyond the stagnant terms of a contract that expired seven years ago, any innovation the Board seeks must receive the approval of the BTF. This is especially true of innovations at the ‘ground level’: any changes to teaching equipment must be jointly approved by Board and BTF representatives,10 the BTF must be involved in faculty meetings and professional development days,11 and perhaps most importantly, the BTF must be equally involved in the Professional Council.12 The Grievance Procedure The Contract installs a Four Level grievance procedure.13 While it guarantees a teacher the right to proceed through the first level without a BTF representative, any appeals must be

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See Art. XI, §C. This includes ‘appropriate texts, library reference facilities, maps and globes, laboratory equipment, shop equipment, A/V equipment, art supplies, athletic equipment, current periodicals, standard tests and questionnaires, and similar supplies and equipment.’ 6 See Art. XIII, §A. This factor will be discussed at greater length below. 7 See Art. XXII, §A. 8 See Art. XXXV, §B(3). 9 Priority on the agenda of Board meetings, for example. This is also evident in the requirement that the BTF be permitted to use faculty meetings to make brief announcements and reports. 10 Here, the BTF will surely be interested in maximizing the resources of all teachers, and will likely be adverse to innovative experiments with select groups of teachers or schools. 11 Further, the contract mandates that only one professional development day may be required of new personnel each school year, that it must occur during the school year, and that it may only be called and required by the BTF. See Art. VIII, §B(1). Regarding faculty meetings, while the contract limits their number to ten per year, and limits their length to one hour, it also guarantees that the BTF be given time in each meeting for ‘brief reports and announcements.’ Further, up to five of these meetings may be used exclusively for professional development, however the agenda must be set in discussion with the BTF. See Art. XXI. 12 The Professional Council and its responsibilities will be discussed below. 13 See Art. V.

made with and through the BTF. Indeed, after Level One it appears that a teacher’s direct involvement with her grievance is no longer necessary, perhaps even discouraged. In Level One, a teacher may “approach the immediate supervisor and discuss the matter in his/her own behalf.” The teacher is also guaranteed a BTF representative if they request; if they do so, then the Board or any representative shall not compel the teacher to discuss the grievance without a BTF representative. 14 If the teacher is unsatisfied by the adjustment, they may file a grievance with the BTF, who then takes over the grievance process in Levels Two through Four. On each appeals level, the BTF interacts with increasing levels of the administrative hierarchy. There is no indication that the teacher who filed the grievance must remain a part of the procedure. The final step of the grievance process is mandatory arbitration: importantly, the arbitrator’s role is limited to “application and interpretation of the provisions of this Contract.” Thus, at the end of the road, the explicit terms of the contract have the final say.15 What incentive does this procedure system set up for the BTF? It encourages it to resist any adjustments to the terms of the contract through the first three levels of the process that would require it to accommodate the Board’s conduct. If the BTF knows that at the end of the road the contract terms will control, then it lacks any incentive to be flexible and accommodating. Moreover, Levels One through Three require increasing levels of administration (the immediate supervisor, the Division Head or Associate Superintendent, and finally the Superintendent) to become involved in the grievance process, while permitting the teacher to delegate her interest to a representative of the BTF specifically designated to deal with grievances. The result is that the BTF is able to commit greater time and expertise to the grievance proceedings than the Board and administration. Finally, the Contract does not cover whether the decisions made at various levels through the grievance process are set aside and used in future grievances. This would be an important thing to explore.

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Art. V, §D(1). See Art. V, §D(2)-(4).

Teacher Schedule and Work Assignment The Contract carefully defines the work schedule of teachers.16 Some of the more important aspects as discussed here. The Contract designates the maximum number of teaching periods a teacher may be assigned each week and the minimum number of preparation periods a teacher must be given each day and week. It also restricts the assignments of certain personnel; for example it prohibits requiring counselors to act as Assistant Principals or Department Chairs, or perform non-counseling duties.17 It explicitly establishes the number of special area subjects that may be taught to elementary children each week.18 This requirement is a particular example of the inability of the Board to innovate or experiment within the terms of the contract. One of the overarching themes of the Contract’s scheduling and work assignment provisions is that, although teachers are not restricted from doing certain things, they cannot be required to do them.19 Thus, although the contract permits voluntary extra involvement, its terms establish an arrangement where teachers are instructed about what they do not have to do, rather than what they are allowed to or can do. Moreover, teachers are compensated and evaluated only on the work that is contractually required: there is no incentive to voluntarily assume extra responsibilities. The Contract also seeks to draw a firm line between work tasks that are and are not ‘teaching responsibilities.’ For instance, it encourages the Board and BTF to establish ways to eliminate certain non-teaching duties20 from a teacher’s responsibility. Again, while it does not prohibit a teacher from engaging in these responsibilities voluntarily, it does give the teacher the right of refusal, and inhibits the Board’s ability to cooperate compromise with teachers. Instead, administration conduct is ultimately governed by the Contract’s provisions, particularly in light
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See Art. VIII and Art. X. See Art. X, §(D). 18 See Art. X, §J (“Each class in K-3 will be provided with one period per week of art, one period per week of music and one period per week of physical education…Each class in grades 406 shall be provided with a total of five periods per week of art, music and physical education, periods to be taught by a specialist in each subject area.”). This is a particular example of why, under the current system, timely renegotiation of the Contract is vital. Core changes to teaching styles can only be accomplished by altering the terms of the contract. 19 The Contract regularly reaffirms that assignments should proceed first on a voluntary basis. For example: “Assignments in addition to the actual teaching of subject matter, (e.g. homeroom and study halls) will be filled, when possible, on a voluntary basis. In those circumstances when volunteers do not come forward, assignments will be filled on a yearly rotating basis.” Art. X, §O. 20 This includes collecting money, recording and transferring information such as grading of school-wide testing programs, attendance data, issuing texts and hallway supervision. See Art. X, §N.

of the grievance procedure. Additionally, despite the goal of removing non-teaching duties, the Contract also encourages the elimination of part-time positions, which arguably could be used to complete the duties removed from a teacher’s responsibilities. At a basic level, the structure of the Contract’s scheduling and work assignment provisions give teachers a right of refusal and bind the Board’s ability to compromise beyond the terms of the Contract or the grievance procedure. Employment and Termination Surprisingly, the Contract has little to say about the necessary qualifications of a full-time new hire. It states that assigned temporary teachers must have a Bachelor’s degree and that, to the extent possible, substitute teachers should have a Bachelor’s degree or trade certification.21 It also specifies that non-certified new hires should complete at least six hours of course work each year in order to continue employment. The Contract mandates that newly appointed teachers are required to attend two days of orientation. As shown above, any professional development sessions of new personnel must be conducted by the BTF.22 Beyond this, however, it says remarkably little about the necessary qualifications of new hires. Regarding teacher assignments, the Contract’s preference is consistency. If an assignment change is desired by a principal, all teachers with appropriate certification must be notified and given the opportunity to express interest.23 The principal must then explain denials of requests to all teachers not chosen, in addition to the BTF. While the Contract states that the principal’s decision is to be final, it does not foreclose grievances on related matters. It also expressly states that inequities in assignments are the subject of grievances.24 Likewise, teacher transfers should be on a voluntary basis to the extent feasible.25 The Contract is also explicit in assignments to summer schools, evening schools, and recreational and part-time programs.26 For existing programs, satisfactory teachers in the program must be granted the right to continue employment. For vacancies, priority must be given
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See Art. XII, §A. Art. VIII, §B(1). 23 Art. X, §B. 24 Art. X, §H. 25 Art. XIV, §G. 26 See Art. XII, §§G-I.

first to contract teachers, based on seniority, then to probationary teachers, then to temporary teachers. For all programs, offers must be made based on seniority in the specific program, or seniority in the school district.27 Priority must also be given to teachers at the school where the program is being held. Again, you can see how these requirements can limit the Board’s ability to experiment with innovative programs. First, it restricts the teacher pool based on where the program is being held. Second, it limits the ability of a program to integrate with the standard school-day teaching, as hiring for the new programs must be offered on a seniority basis, rather than on ability, subject expertise, or any other factor. The result is likely to be conservative and pedestrian programs. Similar restrictions are in place related to adult education programs.28 The Contract also governs the assignment of Department Chairs. While the Principal has the final say, the first step requires him to consider two candidates selected by the department itself. The Principal may select an alterative candidate, however if he does the department is given the right to meet and discuss the choice with the Superintendent before the Principal makes it official.29 When staffing a new school, staff should be drawn from within the school system, starting with the transfer request list.30 In compiling and ordering the transfer list length of teaching experience shall be controlling when all other factors are substantially equal.31 Moreover, when transfers occur as a result of a school closing, teachers from the closed school are granted preference over the existing transfer list, and preference amongst those teachers ordered based on seniority.32 When transfers are required as a result of a reduction-in-force, transfers shall be made in reverse order of seniority; placement in available openings at other schools shall then be conducted based on seniority amongst those selected for reduction.33 The section dealing with termination of a teacher is remarkably brief, though the restrictions are notable. No teacher shall be terminated34 without just cause. The contract offers zero definition of ‘just cause,’ thus ensuring that all terminations can be challenged at length.
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Art. XII, §G(1). See Art. XII, §§H, I. 29 Art. XII, §L. 30 Art. XIV, §H. 31 Art. XIV, §E. 32 Art. XIV, §G. 33 Art. XIV, §G. 34 Or disciplined, reprimanded, reduced in rank or compensation, or deprived of any professional advantage.

Any and all terminations shall be subject to the grievance procedures, regardless of the cause offered by the Board. Tenured teachers have the additional option to forego a grievance and instead file a complaint under the provisions of the New York State Education Law. Finally, the BTF must be notified of any pending termination. Teachers desiring to terminate their employment, on the other hand, must merely give 30 days written notice. Moreover, a teacher who fails to show up for assigned work for a period of 10 consecutive days, no less, may be deemed to have effectively resigned.35 Professional Council The Professional Council must consist of three representatives selected by the BTF (who must be teachers) and three selected by the Superintendent.36 The Professional Council has significant responsibility and authority, and the even split of representation obviously has important considerations. The Council is entrusted to “discuss and study subjects relating to the school system.”37 Explicit examples include standardized testing, automated attendance, teacher evaluation systems, and selection and assignment of teaching tools and equipment. The Council is also in charge of determining when curriculum changes are necessary and assigning committees to research and implement needed changes. The Contract states, however, that “textbook selection and curriculum development are the proper concern of teachers.”38 Thus, teachers are to be consulted and given primary responsibility for the actual development and implementation of curriculum changes. Teacher Evaluation One of the most important roles assigned to the Professional Council is development of “an appropriate and fair instrument and procedure for evaluation” of teachers.39 Though this task is assigned to the Council, which is equally split in representation, the Contract also specifies
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Additionally, in such an instance, the resignation is effective on the tenth day: the teacher is still entitled to pay for that ten day period. See Art. XII, §O. 36 Art. XX, §A(1). 37 Art. XX, §A(2). 38 Art. XX, §D. 39 Art. XIII, §A.

that the development of such an instrument is the “proper concern of the teaching staff” while the actual evaluation is the responsibility of the Board.40 This would seem to suggest that the Council should defer, where possible, to the judgments of the teacher representatives on establishing an evaluation instrument. The Contract, for its part, offers no guidance on what types of elements should be considered in developing an evaluation model. The only specification is that teacher non-participation in extra-curricular activities shall not be considered in evaluations, though it is suggested that voluntary participation may be considered.41 In future contracts, specifying evaluation elements could be something to negotiate. The Contract sets forth the terms on conducting the evaluation. Evaluations must be conducted by qualified members of the staff, and teachers within the BTF cannot evaluate other represented teachers.42 After an evaluation, the evaluator should discuss the evaluation with the teacher within a week and should identify possible areas of improvement.43 Teacher evaluations are not subject to the grievance procedure, however a teacher may demand a meeting with the Associate Superintendent for Instructional Services regarding their evaluation; the teacher may request BTF representation at such a meeting.44 More disconcerting is that the Contract does not indicate the value or usefulness of teacher evaluations. Since ‘just cause’ for termination is not defined, one could assume that poor evaluations would serve as cause. The problem, however, is that the Board bears the burden of establishing cause, and the BTF is given a powerful position to challenge any determination. Recall that the end of the line of the grievance procedure, which all terminations are subject to, is arbitration. The arbitrator, however, only has the authority to interpret the terms of the contract, which fails to define ‘just cause’ or state the importance of the evaluation process.45 Thus, despite a 100+ page contract, two of the most basic aspects of an employment relationship, termination and evaluation, are woefully under-defined.

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Art. XIII, §A. Art. XIII, §G. 42 Art. XIII, §F. 43 Art. XIII, §B. 44 Art. XIII, §C. 45 Art. V, §D(4)(c).

Summary A shockingly significant portion of the Contract focuses on matters of secondary importance to the employment relationship46 while an equally small portion deals with some of the basic elements of the same relationship, notably hiring, termination and evaluation.47 The result is a contract structure that mandates close contract reading for decisions (such as leave, work assignment, class scheduling) that would be better left to cooperation and flexible approaches, whereas vital aspects of the relationship, which undoubtedly lead to highly contested fights (such as termination, discipline and evaluation) are left undefined and subject to a grievance procedure that skews in favor of the full-time representation of the BTF against the split time of the Board. While teachers may have their interests represented by the BTF in grievance proceedings, Board administrators, including Division Heads, Associate Superintendents and the Superintendent himself, must become personally engaged in the grievance resolution. Additionally, the BTF is guaranteed an equal voice on several committees that make important ‘operational’ determinations, such as the curriculum, the evaluation system, and teaching tools and equipment. This arguably inhibits experimentation and innovation. This is magnified by elements of the Contract that strictly mandate specific schedules (such as non-core courses in elementary grades) and a ‘right of refusal’ granted to teachers for any responsibilities not mandated. Above all else, perhaps the most vital aspect of the Contract is that it anticipates being renegotiated and replaced at a certain date. The Contract is not designed to continue beyond its termination date, yet it has been required to do so for at least seven years. Renegotiation must be a priority of the Board.

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For example, a whopping 15 pages deal with the various temporary leave provisions guaranteed to teachers. See Art. XXVIII through XXXVI. Another 11 pages address matters including teacher assignment, teaching conditions, and class size. See Art. VIII through XI. 47 In contrast, the contract fails to set forth the necessary elements of an evaluation process, what amounts to ‘just cause’ for termination, what qualifications are required for new hires, and devotes only a half page to the issue of promotions. Salary and benefit determinations, however, span 27 pages plus 9 pages of the appendix.

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