Legal battle brewing between teachers union and school district

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - The Buffalo Teachers Federation filed a lawsuit against the Buffalo Public Schools and Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash following Cash's decision to change the start time of three city schools.

According to the school district, plans were announced in April to adjust the start times at Dr. Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School (grade 3 to 8) in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, D'Youville Porter Campus School (pre-K to 8) on Porter Avenue and Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence (pre-K to 8) on Appenheimer Street.

The three schools are all in receivership, meaning the superintendent has broad authority to make changes and adjust policies and procedures at the schools in the interest of improving the education of students. Schools in receivership are determined by NYS to be routinely low-performing.

But, according to the union, the decision to change start times at the three schools was purely financial and violates the current teachers contract which states changes in start times wouldn't happen until the 2018-19 school year.

The union challenged the move in State Supreme Court, arguing the changes were made solely to save money and went against the wishes of many parents and teachers. A judge ordered a stay in the case.

Under the ruling, the three planned changes in start time can't happen until NYS Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia decides if they fall under Cash's receivership authority.

Elena Cala, spokesperson for the district, says education was the primary reason for the change. She would not discuss specific reasoning for the change in start times due to ongoing litigation.

Adjusting the start times at those three schools would have a noticeable financial impact. The district says it was set to save $4 million this year--a "byproduct" of the scheduling changes.

The district's budget was finalized in May, accounting for the anticipated changes in start times. If this ruling stands, Buffalo Public Schools will have to account for those unanticipated costs.

"We didn't budget for extra costs if the stay were to remain," Cala said. "It's too late to make changes without great financial cost and cost to the educational component."

BTF President Phil Rumore said the union was working with the district to modify schedules at certain schools to help cut costs. The groups were in talks to adjust start times at more than a dozen schools, according to Rumore.

"Instead of continuing to work with us, the Superintendent and District decided to shove the schedule changes down the throats of the parents, teachers and students," Rumore said in a statement. "Parents and teachers were angered by this unilateral move and showed their displeasure on signed petitions delivered to the court."

Two of the schools, D'Youville and Lydia Wright, were set to have their start times moved from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.; the start time for the other school, Charles Drew, was going to be pushed back five minutes.

The district is hopeful the changes in start times will be allowed this school year, Cala said, either through an appeal with the courts or by the direction of Commissioner Elia.

The district provided the following statement:

"It is necessary that the District look at its options to challenge/revisit the Order. The District provided certainty to teachers and families regarding the school day on or about April 2017. At this late date, this stay will present tremendous educational and logistical hardship."

Under the terms of the teachers' contract, the district is adding 25 minutes to the school day starting this year. The first day of school for Buffalo students is September 5.

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