How Phil Rumore co-opted the school board and rigged the teacher’s contract

BY CARL PALADINO

Rumore v  Taxpayers, Parents, and Children

In 2016, when both friends of Phil Rumore, the president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) suggested he retire, Rumore began his final assault on the taxpayers, parents and children of the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS).

For over 30 years, Rumore had successfully and brilliantly negotiated on behalf of Buffalo teachers against a cadre of “halfwits” – people who were elected or appointed to represent the interests of parents, students and taxpayers – but merely pandered to the BTF.

A “halfwit” can be someone who is intentionally motivated to serve interests other than the community or someone who is just actually stupid. In any event, Buffalo’s halfwits were very inclined to sympathize with union desires and concerns while remaining oblivious to the desires of the citizens of Buffalo for their children to have a quality opportunity for a good education.

Teachers’ contract lingered until Rumore was ready.

The contract between the BTF and the BPS expired 12 years ago, but because of something unique in New York State – the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law – the terms of expired union contracts with municipalities continue in force until a new contract is signed. The members get to keep all their benefits, along with the yearly step salary increase built into the old deal.

During the 12 years that the expired contract terms remained in place, teachers were receiving step increases in wages averaging around 2.5% per year. Consequently, despite sporadic feigning to negotiate, Rumore was in no hurry to finally settle the contract until he decided to retire.

District need: The recovery of management prerogatives.

Over the years, Rumore quite literally outsmarted and mastered his halfwit adversaries.  He amazingly assembled for his union an array of prerogatives usually reserved to management in other school districts.  His superior negotiating skills tied the hands of management so badly that the BPS has been severely hampered in its management functions.

For instance, the BPS is unable to select a swimming coach at a school based on ability because seniority comes first.  It is foolish and laughable, especially when there is a financial stipend incentive, for teachers with no expertise teaching swimming to take the job.  We actually have schools with swimming coaches who can’t swim.  There are hundreds of other examples.

Unlike other school districts, our superintendent must get approval from the union leaders to appoint, promote or assign an administrator or teacher.

Finances are in shambles, but Rumore wants every last nickel.

The District’s problem is that everyone knows what it has in its reserves (money set aside for other than for day-to-day expenses). Rumore has always looked at it as the teachers’ money.

Even a halfwit knows that is unfair.  A minimum reserve of 4% of the annual budget is required by state law.  There are other contracts to be settled. There are priorities to be paid for to better the quality of education, like reducing class sizes, helping parents get to the schools to participate in their child’s education, and implementing neighborhood schools to get the kids out of this ridiculous punishment for children: the liberal, feel good “busing” culture that requires a child with SED (serious emotional disturbances) to be on a bus for up to three hours every day instead of studying or being playing outside.

Rumore’s initial demand was for every nickel in the reserves, every perk he had sought in the past, and to give back nothing, niente. Screw the kids and other needs.

Buffalo is the only school district in New York State where all retired administrators and teachers are entitled to lifetime private health care for them and their spouse until they die, despite the availability of government paid Medicare. Last year that unsustainable package cost the district over $75 million. It was vital that any new contract provide for an end to such a burden for all new hires, a phase out which would take over 30 years to implement.

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As President of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, Phil Rumore has negotiated contracts for teachers that critics say are overly generous. As examples of Rumore’s successful negotiating strategy over the years, Buffalo teachers have pooled sick days; can sell back unused sick days, have an early retirement incentive plan, a top of the line health care plan; for years have had the shortest work day (6:50), and the shortest work year (186 days); the highest number of personal days (5) and rank among the highest cost (total compensation) for teachers in all of the 32 school districts in Erie County and statewide.

The BPS cost is record high and education is record low.

The BPS combined general, food service and grants budgets total approximately $1 billion per year (funded with city, state and federal money) or about $24,000 per student for about 41,800 students; 33,000 in the BPS, and 8,800 students in Charter public schools.

Deduct from the $1 billion, $110 million, which is $12,500/student for 8,800 students in Charters, leaving $890 million, or $27,000 per student for the BPS to educate 33,000 kids.

For comparison, the tuition at Nichols School is $22,000 per year; at Canisius, St. Joe’s, and St. Francis, about $12,000 per year.  West Seneca, Tonawanda, etc. spend $12-15,000 per year to educate a student. These schools and public charters somehow teach students far better for much less than the BPS.  In fact, there is no shortage of student achievement standards that would support the argument that we are paying the most for the least.

Now you are getting a hint at the genius of Phil Rumore.  He has– with the help of a successive group of halfwits– helped guide the BPS to become one of the most expensive but least productive school districts in America.  It could be worse.

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East High School had a graduation rate artificially boosted by a principal who manipulated the numbers. He was placed on leave. It costs taxpayers an estimated $27,000 per year to send a student to the Buffalo Public Schools. In 2010, the Buffalo News reported that the Buffalo School District was the 3rd highest district in expenditures per student in the USA. In 2014, a Ballotpedia study found Buffalo moved up to number #2.

Charters actually help BPS budget per student.

When the brainless complain about Charter schools, think of this: The charters, which actually teach well, in effect subsidize the BPS, which overall doesn’t teach well at all.

Consider that the BPS is always irresponsibly broke, passing deficit budgets every year.

Yet, if the Charter school-haters on the board actually got their wish and shut down all of the Charter schools, BPS would need to take in 8,800 students now enrolled in Charters, but would get only $12,500 per student in revenue.  Do you think the unions would help with a pay cut?

I have been falsely accused by Board members with other motivations of benefiting from my financial support of Charter schools. After years witnessing the overall success of Charters compared to the dysfunctional Buffalo Public Schools, I learned that Albany, to placate New York State United Teachers, limited Charter expansion and sought to kill them off by extending only five year licenses, which gave no “risk comfort” to banks and developers. In the interest of helping Buffalo students have good educational opportunities, I gave my signature to guarantee Charter expansion. I have now guaranteed millions of dollars of high-risk bank loans to Charters.

Sandra Tan of the Buffalo News wanted to investigate the “great profit” question. I invited her to my office and opened our books to show her that the marginal, 5 to 10% profit we earned on these investments was nowhere near what others would expect, considering the risk.

I can say that the Charter schools we helped, which educate about 3000 city children, would not exist today except for our efforts.

Despite all the lies and fabrications that Phil Rumore has thrown around about our poor and overworked teachers, our overall cost per teacher (when you include the forever health care and other highly unusual, unique to Buffalo benefits, like the forever abused vacation and sick day benefits and the concept of pooling sick days) is the highest in the state, if not the entire country.

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New Yorkers pay more for education, pupil for pupil, than any other state.

The dysfunction 

The irony of this expensive cost per teacher is that, except for the Criterion Schools of Excellence and a few others, BPS doesn’t actually teach. When one views the statistics, keep in mind that the Criterion Schools pull the averages up.   Most of the other schools – by comparable standards – are utter failures.

Even with the 12 or so well performing schools included, the overall statistics are pathetic.

The true graduation rate is well below 50%, below 20% for black males, when you discount for the common, historical practice of improving statistics by simply manipulating numbers when it comes to addressing graduation rates, attendance and especially violence.  No wonder Buffalo is the third poorest city in America today.

Violence, bullying and fighting with teachers and other students is rampant and out of control in the BPS primarily because of the lame policy of restorative justice, which gives no credible consequence for bad acts.

To resolve the problem, the BPS declared the goal to be fewer suspensions.

The methodology and action plan was simply to, off the record, instruct lame principals to stop suspending students for violent actions.  While violent incidents this past year shot up dramatically, the mayor’s solution was to replace the officer in charge of the BPS Buffalo Police detail with an officer who goes around to get photo ops with kids, painting a false picture of happy schools, belying the extreme chaos that exists daily.  But we should be happy.  Suspensions are down significantly.

Still, it doesn’t take a genius to learn how incompetent principals like Casey Young, the principal at East High School, upped his graduation statistics, pushing kids through by changing grades, having phony classrooms, etc. He admitted to me at one time that he put 135 kids on the streets to improve the stats for that cohort. Board member Sharon Cottman provided him cover until she couldn’t anymore, as the cheating principal’s actions became more notorious and impossible to hide.

At School 37 last year, with over 600 elementary students, the proficiency in passing the state standardized math test was zero. The proficiency in English was 2%.

I take on the pro-union school board

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I ran for the school board on a platform that parents and taxpayers should control the school district – not the teachers’ unions.  The holding of school board elections in May (not in November when voter turnout is larger) was originally arranged by Democrats in Albany to aid the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) efforts to maintain control over the big 5 urban school districts.

When I was first elected to the nine-member Buffalo School Board in 2013, it was eight against one — me. Some people considered that unfair; seeking to expand the Board to at least 15 members which, they thought, would come closer to evening the odds — 14 against me.  But make it 100 to 1.  It doesn’t matter when you look at the low quality of my opposition.

Exposing the underbelly of the beast –  the ingrained incompetency, the waste, the violence, the attendance problems, the friends and family hiring, the promoting and assignment morale killer, the kick the can down the road reaction to bad staff, ambivalence and, in the case of the Joint Schools Construction Board (JSCB), the blatant and criminal corruption – was the battle I waged alone, and people caught on.  For a time, we gained a majority on the Board.

Unfortunately, our sometimes Board of Education majority, with the insular and indecisive Jim Sampson as president, finally fired the incompetent superintendent, Pamela Brown, but then made a huge mistake– my mistake — and theirs for listening to me: They picked the treacherous interim successor, Donald Ogilvie, who was recommended to me as a strong local who knew where all the bodies were buried and would clean up the mess.  He turned out to be a nightmarish wimp, all for the status quo.

The majority then over-reacted in selecting Kriner Cash, a nice man, but an outsider, who, although knowledgeable and experienced, had no idea what he was facing in Buffalo.  His first mistake was reappointing many corrupt and incompetent executive staffers who would, as they had done for years, collaborate with racist, abusive and ignorant minority Board members and the leaders of the two big unions, Phil Rumore and Crystal Barton, of the American Federation of School Administrators, principal of McKinley High School, and ostensible leader of the secret society–(shadow administration of the BPS).

Kriner had a bias in favor of continuing the failed New York State urban school district model, maintaining the status quo and trying to tweak the dysfunction, in the endless and mindless pursuit of doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  In effect, it’s like praying for a miracle instead of attacking and destroying the dysfunction in favor of real choice with more charters, vouchers and tax credits to create real competition.

Kriner has also not been able to confront and deal with the interference and desire to micromanage coming from the new majority minority women on the Board.

In my opinion, the new members of the Board majority, unable to address any logical or doable response to important issues, do what the older members have done historically:  They play the race card.

We now have a Board majority, composed of small-minded racists, devoid of any discernible leadership skills or actual care for the minority community, making bad decisions, like rigging the teachers’ contract.  They and their screaming activist cohorts seek to maintain power they couldn’t get anywhere else.

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Doing something right: Nichols School’s tuition is $22,000 per year, which is less than the cost for educating a child at Buffalo Public Schools.

School Board Elections Held in May, Designed with Unions in Mind

School Board members are elected by less than 5% of the electorate in a separate May election maintained by Albany Democrat legislative leadership to hold our minority children captive, hungry and uneducated, in a cycle of poverty in our inner cities, for no other good reason than to maintain the Democrat voting base.  Unions rig elections by proposing candidates with union centric goals.

Let’s face it, while the average parent of students in the BPS and the average taxpayer do not vote in the May School Board election, the average union teacher will vote– and for the candidate who supports the union.  That one little difference, combined with low overall turnout, gives Rumore the incredible power to rig a contract.

If the blacks on the School Board really wanted to impact the dysfunction of the BPS and give real choice to the parents to get their kids out of the bad environment, why wouldn’t they favor more charters, vouchers and tax credits?  Why do they defend the sick and malevolent status quo?

Maybe because they also believe that hiring, appointing, promotion and assignment in the ranks of teachers and administrators must be based on diversity (code for friends and family) and not merit. They seek quotas and harp on diversity in hiring, appointing, promoting and assigning staff with only a secondary consideration for ability, competency and experience.  No policy is more devastating to morale than taking merit out of the equation.

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School Board President Dr. Barbara Seals-Nevergold.

The Rumore plan  

Recognizing that he needed a majority on the Board, Rumore put together and financed through NYSUT a coalition of unions set up by the ignominious Richard Lipsitz of the Labor Federation, activist groups, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, shadow government leader and bagman Maurice Garner, Lou Ciminelli and a motley group of “loonies and crazies” to win a new majority in the May, 2016 election, promising the candidates full financial and resource support in return for only one quid pro quo:  They had to promise that when the time came to vote on a new teachers contract, they would vote ‘yes’ on whatever was put in front of them.

Lou Ciminelli, enriched by the unprecedented $450 million fleecing he gave the BPS, and Maurice Garner, his $10,000 per month “minority consultant” during the Joint Schools Construction Project (JSCB), participated heavily in the effort to defeat our majority because they knew that their pawn, Barbara Nevergold, as Board President, who they own lock, stock and barrel because of her complicity as a former JSCB member, would remove Larry Quinn and I, the only Board members who know anything about construction, from the JSCB.  Unfortunately for them, the matter will not simply go away.  We will continue pursuing Ciminelli for an accounting of the missing $450 million and the FBI will continue its criminal investigation, despite Nevergold’s attempts at cover up.

It all begs the questions:  Is Nevergold a co-conspirator with Ciminelli?  Why isn’t she conflicted on any matters involving me?  Did she get a payoff to look the other way when she was a member of the JSCB?  Is this one of the real reasons she now wants me off of the School Board?

School Board member Hope Jay’s motives are also fairly clear.  As the current (or former) girlfriend of Erie County Executive Mark Polancarz, she looks to get me off the Board and push back on me because I have (preliminarily) revealed Mark’s pay to play scheme when he conspired to give one of his favorite donor/developers the Erie County Social Services lease by moving them from 478 Main St., owned by me and, among others, Frank McGuire. The game was to get a stupid, biased and self-interested broker to prepare two separate analyses, both showing that our deal was more expensive than Paul Ciminelli’s deal, which I and the Erie County Legislature, confirmed by Erie County Comptroller, Stefan Mychajliw, have revealed as the other way around – to the tune of over $3 million and a blatant lie.

Although the BTF and the BPS are, and should be, adversarial to each other’s interests, the law says unions can contribute money and resources to School Board members.  But the real question, which will be investigated, is whether or not it is legal for a Board member to take money and support from the adversarial union in return for her vote on the union’s contract.

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Supt. Kriner Cash was the lead negotiator for the school district.

Kriner plays out of his league

Our former majority on the Board had previously retained the services of a high quality attorney to bargain with Rumore. Constantly complaining, on behalf of Rumore, that our attorney was costing too much ($100,000 is peanuts when considering the hundreds of millions of dollars at stake), Barbara Nevergold, after the election of the new majority, as the newly appointed president, successfully “persuaded” Kriner Cash to discharge the attorney and appoint himself lead negotiator against Rumore.

Rumore, once again, had created the perfect setting by refusing to negotiate with the Board’s attorney, not showing up for meetings and constantly adjourning negotiations, all in bad faith, but carefully executed to get Kriner to react to Nevergold and fire the attorney, which he did without informing the Board as a whole.  Nevergold and Rumore fed Kriner’s ego and he bit, making the biggest mistake of his career in thinking that he could take on a negotiation with Rumore, who had eaten people like Kriner for lunch for years.

Almost immediately after winning the new majority, Rumore demanded negotiations.,The Board met with Nate Kuzma, our in-house deputy general counsel, giving him instructions on what terms would be acceptable.  I advised, on many occasions, that we should not bargain against ourselves, which means that when we put a proposal on the table, we don’t improve the proposal without Phil first putting his proposal or counter proposal on the table. From day one Kriner was on the defensive, getting nothing substantive from Rumore, but upping our proposal.  It was sad to watch.  Nate tried to make it look good in his presentations but the reality was obvious. We were going nowhere.

That is when Phil showed his real talent.  Publicly he announced a date for a meeting of the BTF to vote on a proposed contract, but privately he and others leaked to the News that the union intended an illegal strike if a contract was not signed by the date of the meeting. Tiffany Lankes at the Buffalo News reported the potential illegal strike. This panicked Kriner and created the illusion that time was short and chaos was looming.

Kriner did not want to be at the helm if there was a strike and the poor children had no one to teach or babysit them. After all, it wasn’t his money, and he knew the Board majority would wink and sign off.  He had to give a lot more.

In an executive session on the Wednesday before Phil’s scheduled meeting, Nate brought the Board up to date on what terms had been agreed to. Kriner said he needed authority for more money from the reserves.  He said he needed another $10 million and he was certain he could get the return of the management prerogatives and even end lifetime health care for new hires, but he had to put the money on the table to avoid a disastrous strike.

I asked “What is with this nonsense about a strike?”

Nate and Kriner both said we couldn’t risk it; it would be terrible for Buffalo (That is where I first saw Byron Brown looming over the issue).

I pleaded with Kriner to disregard the illegal strike talk and stop panicking over it because even if they illegally went on strike, no one would care.  We would just put a bunch of babysitters in the schools and Phil would go to jail for a few days.  How sick is it to sit in an executive session, ostensibly held to keep the discussion private, but knowing full well that within minutes Rumore, our adversary, would know from treacherous Board members everything discussed in the meeting.

My advice went unheeded.

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Carl Paladino opposed the closed door session where the teachers’ contract was discussed by the board.

 A ‘Done Deal’ in illegal Executive Session

A few days later, Kriner announced a tentative agreement but, obviously at the instruction of Nevergold, the terms wouldn’t be disclosed publicly.  Even Board members couldn’t see it in advance of the special meeting where they would vote on it.

At the meeting, School Board Member Larry Quinn and I demanded that the discussion be held in the open with the public. The majority voted illegally to take it into executive session. Quinn and I refused to go into executive session demanding open meeting transparency.  The majority didn’t want transparency.  We could smell that the deal was rigged.

We received copies of the deal when the Board returned to open session and were expected to read, digest and be prepared to debate and vote on it immediately. Nevergold, the righteous leader of the conspiracy to sell out the kids, permitted me to ask, as I recall, one question, then she took a motion from Cottman and Jay to cut off debate and vote.  Quinn and I voted no. The enormously favorable deal for the BTF was fixed.

We learned later that in the last negotiating session, Rumore invited Kriner, without staff, to another room where Kriner caved on everything, giving Rumore $35 million instead of the $10 million authorized, extending the term and dropping all of our demands for return of management prerogatives and the end of retirement health care for new hires. He gave them the farm, the farm animals and equipment and the future hopes for the farm.

Was Kriner played?  Was he a knowing or an unknowing participant in rigging the deal?  Do any of them recognize the damage that they did?  Do any of them care? For Kriner, personally, he can write on his resume that he settled a 13-year-old contract.  Does he have to deal with the aftermath?  Not really; he can leave the disaster any time he wants.  For the rest of the community, the parents and the students there is nothing new.  Dysfunction everywhere is and has been Buffalo.  The conspirators hurt the district illegally and irreparably, even using money restricted by state law, but more importantly depriving the kids of needed reforms and making it impossible to negotiate settlements with the other unions.

Did the event show how morally and ethically bankrupt leadership is in our area, especially in the BPS?  I think yes.  Was there criminality?  We’ll leave that to the public corruption unit of the FBI to decide.

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The battle between Barbara Nevergold and Carl Paladino has been described as a battle between the teachers’ union and its teachers and the parents and taxpayers of Buffalo.
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