BPS substitute teachers, facilitators make their cases for union agreements

Oct 19, 2017

The Buffalo Public School system is constantly negotiating union contracts with some organization, with the recent contract with the Buffalo Teachers Federation establishing a framework. Wednesday night, the School Board heard protests from the substitutes union and a separate dispute over the parent facilitators, a relatively new position in the school system.

Substitute teachers parachute into a classroom when the teacher is not there. The constant need for substitutes is said to reflect claimed absentee issues among teachers.

Substitutes United does not have a contract with the school district and is bargaining. Union President Stephen Hicks said his members deserve more money for what they do, especially when the class day has been lengthened.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"We do care for our young people and we care about them succeeding in their education. We are there when the teachers aren't there," said Hicks. "So we feel that we are significant people in our children's growth. We walk into schools that are, some of them are in disarray, some are outright dangerous."

Many substitutes showed up at the board meeting to say what they do and why they deserve more money. Sub Elaine Barthel asked the board, "What if we weren't there ?"

"Imagine a day a day without substitute teachers, especially in the Buffalo school district, where the need is quite high," said Barthel. "With these concerns in mind, we as the unified substitute teachers union are requesting that the terms in negotiation of our contract be met. We are merely asking for a small increase in salary, a payment for time extension at the schools and a very slight bonus."

"I want to emphasize as a substitute teacher we provide stability and cohesiveness," said substitute teacher Rona Paul. "We are the bridge between the regular teacher and the student. Without a stable workforce of subs, there would be chaos. We need the money so that we can continue to attract educated and able people to do these jobs. They are important jobs to the educational system for the parents and for the students."

Superintendent Kriner Cash said he values the substitutes and wants an agreement.

Credit MIke Desmond / WBFO News

"I, as Superintendent, greatly value our substitutes," Cash said. "I do believe that we need to have these articles in this contract. I have directed staff to ensure that they are in there to upgrade the professional aspects of being substitutes."

The facilitator issue is somewhat different, since the district fired them in a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over whether they are employees who should have taxes withheld from their checks or if they are independent contractors. Facilitator Cassaundra Yancey said facilitators get things done teachers do not have time to do.

"In the midst of all of it is a great thing because since I started in September, I have been able to pull one or two parents every other week and they're coming and they need to be notified and these teachers don't have time to step out of their classrooms to call a parent for a field trip or just to come in to work with the kids on a project," said Yancy.

Facilitator Kellie Bolden said they have to deal with some tough issues.

"As a parent facilitator, I have counseled kids from a parent's point of view in the school and, in many cases, I have stood in for missing parents at school functions," said Bolden. "I have a parent come into the parent room with a black eye and bruises all over. She could barely see. She had kept this abuse a secret and decided to reveal it in the comfort of the parent room."

The facilitators who spoke said they help parents deal with the school system as they deal with life, even for needs like finding a place to live.

Cash said he is trying to set up a meeting to talk with the 65 facilitators.