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Bring Back Laid-Off Teachers
by Maria Rosa
Although many teachers were ecstatic on Friday, April 24, after the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court rendered an affirmative decision on the health insurance carrier dispute with the district, it was a somber occasion for others when the court vacated the ruling by both the arbitrator and a previous State Supreme Court to reinstate laid-off teachers with back pay and interest.
The court grossly erred when it “…concluded that the arbitrator conferred a benefit on teachers to which they were not contractually entitled to, i.e., a job security clause…acted in excess of the powers granted to him with respect to the part of the award concerning the teachers.”
The majority of the teachers that had been laid off were contract/tenured or probationary ones and have a property right in their jobs. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution provides that government may not deprive citizens of property without due process of law. Thus, “a tenured teacher has a protected property interest in his or her position and a right to retain it subject to being discharged for cause in accordance with the provisions of the (Education Law)” as the New York State Court of Appeals held in Gould v Board of Education.
Moreover, Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore was correct when he told the Buffalo News the district had it both ways, saving money through the single-carrier plan and laying off teachers to protect against an unfavorable outcome in court. In July 2005, the human resource officer in the district sent a letter to 88 teachers advising them that their jobs had been terminated more or less due to the dispute with the BTF arising from the health care issue. They were used as a ploy to pressure the union to accept the imposition of the single health carrier in order for them to be reinstated. The arbitrator ruled back in October 2006 that it was wrongful for the district to have laid them off for this reason and ordered reinstatement with back pay plus interest.
It has been nearly three years that the teachers were wrongfully laid off, losing their incomes, facing foreclosure on their homes and lack of health insurance, depleting their pension funds, disrupting their families’ lives. And unless the district does the right thing and brings back the teachers with back pay and interest, teachers may have to go back to multiple carriers until a new contract is negotiated. And Mr. Rumore may have to seek permission to appeal the case to the State Court of Appeals.
While the district seemingly is concerned about the $13 million yearly cost of the multiple carriers that it could otherwise use to hire more teachers and for classroom programs, it simultaneously has become top-heavy with newly hired administrators whose salaries and positions are questionable at a time when teachers don’t have a contract, denied their contractual steps after a three year freeze of wages, and test scores continue to decline.
The district wants the teachers to be fair while it crafts its 2008-09 budget, yet it continues to reap the savings from the single health carrier without the teachers sharing in it.
Maria Rosa, M.S., S.D.A
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