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Buffalo Teachers Want Fewer Nonacademic Duties, But at What Cost?

A dustup over cafeteria and recess duties illustrates the trade-offs teachers often have to make between their in-classroom and out-of-classroom responsibilities. 

Teachers at City Honors School in Buffalo, N.Y., are looking to get off the hook for routine duties required of other teachers in the district like monitoring the cafeteria and supervising study halls, according to The Buffalo News. But that decision could have some unintended consequences that neither the district nor the teachers want. 

The Buffalo Teachers Federation filed a grievance against the school district seven years ago when City Honors teachers had to begin performing nonacademic duties from which they had been exempt since the school's opening in 1975, reports the newspaper. An arbitrator in 2016 sided with the union. The district appealed the decision, but it was upheld in State Supreme Court last spring. Now the district and union are in talks once again before they're due back in court at the end of this month.

It's not unusual for teachers across the country to have to pull bus duty, or monitor halls, the lunchroom, or recess (depending on the terms of their contracts, of course). Although these aren't always roles teachers welcome, some argue for the merits of getting to know students outside of the classroom, as this educator does in an Education Week Commentary about monitoring lunch detention.

But the circumstances at City Honors, a magnet school, are unusual, said special assistant to the superintendent Elena Calal. When the school first got off the ground, the student body was small, more independent, and what Calal called "self monitoring." Over the years, as the school grew, adminstrators had to hire aides to take on some of the nonacademic duties. That funding didn't last, and eventually the extra duties fell into teachers' hands. And that's where the union grievance came in.

Yet as it turns out, the decision to free City Honors teachers from nonacademic duties would cost the school system about $600,000 a year, because it would have to hire teacher aides again to take over those responsibilities. The union, for its part, would like to avoid the district resorting to teacher layoffs to make up for the shortfall. City Honors, the top-performing school known for its international baccalaureate program, a course of study linked to college success, would then have to increase class sizes and even cut some electives.

The district and union are now in talks to find a deal they can both live with, according to Calal.

Buffalo Public Schools has offered to pay City Honors teachers for performing the nonacademic duties, even though district officials question the fairness of allowing some teachers a privilege not granted to all teachers working in its schools, reports The Buffalo News. (Buffalo has struggled in the recent past to address allegations of discriminatory admissions practices at City Honors, and still faces public scrutiny on this issue.)

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, appears confident that the district and union leaders can reach an agreement before the court requires the district to take action on the ruling.

"It seems to be a genuine willingness to work this out," Rumore told the newspaper. "I think the teachers at the school, as well as the BTF [Buffalo Teachers Federation], are committed to finding a solution to the problem without starting World War III."

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