A rare set of smart moves to avoid a labor crisis

We’ve written much in this space about mistakes, self-started crises or those inflamed by bad decisions or stupidity. It might be worthwhile looking at a crisis avoided.

Amherst, NY is a suburb of Buffalo. It is, or was, the largest municipality defined as a “town” in New York State. It has about 115,000 people — hence the quotes around town — and three major and quite good school districts, Amherst, Williamsville and Sweet Home.

Bordering Amherst is the Town of Cheektowaga, home to Buffalo’s airport and its Galleria Mall. It has two school districts, Cheektowaga-Sloan and Maryvale. [Yes, both towns would save a lot of money if each had one school district; but that’s government consolidation expert Kevin Gaughan‘s bailiwick, not mine.]

Last year, as initiated and brought to fruition by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state imposed a 2 percent cap on tax increases for municipalities and school districts. Only in the highest-taxed state among the 50 is a 2 percent cap — which actually means up to 2.9 percent — on tax increases seen as equivalent to and given the same sort of marching band, big parade treatment as an actual tax cut. But that’s New York for you. Yes, in five years, with the tax cap in place, taxes could still rise 10 percent. But we look for small victories over government in this state.

One good outcome of the cap is that it got the attention of school districts and, in some cases, their teacher unions. The result in the Amherst and Cheektowaga districts is recounted in the Buffalo News story.


OK, friends, you can’t coach stupid, but you can’t get enough of smart either, especially when it comes to the best type of crisis, the one you prevent.

What was avoided? Teacher, staff and/or nurse layoffs. Rancor and anger. A possible teachers strike, although that’s not legal in New York, they do happen. Work to rule. Early retirements. Brain drain. Upset students. Parents moving out. Young parents not moving in. Angry parents of all ages. Upheaval anathema to education.

And who would suffer? The students, their parents, and the district’s reputation.

The Amherst Central and Cheektowaga-Sloan school districts negotiated a wage freeze with their teachers.

Sloan teachers reopened their contract with the district once the superintendent presented them grim budget numbers: a gap of $780,000 and a tax cap that would allow the district to raise the levy by 1.1 percent, or $159,000.

The concessions will save Amherst more than $700,000, and will avoid the layoff of up to 20 teachers.

Amherst teachers union President Jennifer Higgins said it right.

“We’ve been in this situation before. We agreed to move to self-funded health insurance under a single provider. We agreed to reductions in retirement. This is just the latest example of how the union has rolled their sleeves to help the students and the community.”

Applause, brava, hooray!


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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