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Will RCSD union teachers have a new contract before school starts?

Teacher opens the door.

Leadership with the union that represents Rochester teachers say negotiations over new contracts with the City School District have reached an impasse.

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said Tuesday that the teachers' contract expired at the end of June, while substitutes haven’t had a contract in two years.

The union has been negotiating higher salaries, smaller class sizes, and more social-emotional supports for students, he said in a letter to colleagues on Tuesday.

However, despite months of attempted bargaining between the district and the union, Urbanski said that no agreement has been reached.

"You have a shortage of workers and you have spiraling inflation. If you want to remain competitive, you have to factor that in,” Urbanski said. “That's what we're asking our district to do in negotiations, and they seem oblivious to it.”

rochester teachers' association president Adam Urbanski
James Brown
Rochester Teacher's Association President Adam Urbanski

The district is currently looking to fill more than 400 positions for teachers and teaching assistants in the upcoming school year. Urbanski said without contract negotiations, teachers are less likely to choose RCSD over other districts.

“Unless something is done fairly soon, I think we run the real risk that some kids returning to the city schools in September, in just a few short weeks, will not have a teacher in front of them,” he said.

Urbanski filed an impasse with the New York State Public Employment Relations Board on Tuesday morning, he said, in the hopes of having an impartial mediator appointed to resolve the deadlock by the end of the month.

This comes two weeks after the district's school board moved to push Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small to resign in an executive session.

On Wednesday, a district spokesperson said in a statement that the lack of an agreement so far is unfortunate.

"The District remains willing to negotiate the contract in order to support our teachers as well as all of our other hard-working employees, students, and families," the statement said.

There has been some notable friction between district leadership, the school board and the teachers union.

During budget deliberations toward the end of last school year, board president Cynthia Elliott noted that she wanted to see proposed employee compensation trimmed down from a $4.4 million increase by excluding employees from receiving unused sick pay.

“Let me just put on record to all the unions, we’re expecting that to be eliminated,” Elliott said at a school board meeting in April. “That has to be one of the points that we negotiate, that nobody’s getting paid for sick time. If you don't use it, you lose it.”

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RCSD School Board President Cynthia Elliott.

This followed comments at an earlier meeting in which Elliott described some district teachers as being unfit for the job.

"While I will honor and celebrate the great work that's being done by a number of our teachers within our buildings, let's just be real about it,” Elliott said in the April 13 school board meeting. “Like I said, there are piss-poor teachers who are working in our district and don't want to cooperate with what we're trying to do with the high expectations that we're trying to put in place for our students.”

At the same meeting, Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Black suggested that some teachers in the district do not prepare lesson plans.

RCSD is currently holding job fairs looking to hire people “on the spot” for nearly 700 vacant positions in the district including jobs in security, food service, teaching, and office staff.

School starts on Sept. 7.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.