NY Schools Are Getting Ready For A Big Showdown With The Union

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Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash has nearly completed plans to turn around struggling school districts just weeks after being granted unprecedented powers to bypass the current union contract, according to weekend reports.

Cash has promised big reforms since taking office three months ago. The focus is on five particular school districts that have had significant problems. Cash already has key staff in place and some initial plans written out, reports The Buffalo News. His biggest asset may be the ability to defy the local teacher’s union– New York Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia granted Cash the authority Nov. 9 to bypass the current teachers union contract.

“Students at these persistently struggling schools need help right now,” Elia said at the time. “The receivership law gives the superintendent enhanced authority in order to maintain local control while facilitating rapid improvement in student outcomes.”

The plan still need to be finalized and Cash is taking suggestions from interested parties. Anything put forth, however, is likely to face significant opposition from the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF). The decision to allow Cash to bypass the current labor agreement opens the door to a lawsuit. Labor contracts are binding agreements, and BTF President Philip Rumore is working with New York State United Teachers to put together a case.

“This receivership collective bargaining agreement will, among other things, enable Dr. Cash to more effectively utilize and deploy effective teachers and make changes to programs and teaching assignments,” Elia continued. “All of which will ensure that students in these struggling schools are provided with increased educational opportunities.”

With his new authority, Cash could make significant changes to the school system. He has already indicated that he plans to make the school year longer, implement more training for teachers, hold teachers more accountable for their actions, and require schools to set goals. He also plans to make school days longer. Some of the possible changes already run contrary to what the union contract allows.

“Considering that Superintendent Cash is her handpicked candidate for Buffalo, it is not surprising to me that she has upheld most of what he asked for,” Rumore told The Buffalo News. “That sends a very strong message to us.”

The state law looks to be on the side of the schools. State lawmakers implemented reforms in April to allow officials to take control of schools with severe issues. The schools in question must show persistent problems and be among the lowest performing 5 percent within the state. A lawsuit, however, could test the legality of the education reforms.

The vested powers do come with some restrictions. Cash must provide teachers and administrators some notification of any contractual changes. Teachers must also be granted preference for another job if they are displaced from their position. Beyond the restrictions, Elia also recommends that a committee be created to help with staffing changes. The committee should consists of an odd number of members, to prevent deadlock between union and district representatives. The district will get one more representative on the committee than the union.

If Cash is unable to improve the five struggling school districts by the end of the school year, the schools could face an outside takeover. BTF and the Cash did not respond to request for comment from The Daily Caller News Foundation.

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