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Batavia Teachers' Association

September 10, 2020 - 10:12am

As would be expected, anxiety at both the instructional and administrative levels is evident as the Batavia City School District prepares to welcome back students.

“We’re feeling all of the feelings at once,” said Mark Warren, president of the Batavia Teachers’ Association, on Wednesday. “Everybody is excited to be back and wants to see their kids, their students. They want to get back to working with students. For a lot of people, though, there’s some fear mixed in – in terms of being around groups of people.”

The first day for classes – some in-person and some remotely thanks to COVID-19 – is next Monday. Teachers returned on Tuesday for the first of four days of professional development.

Warren said most teachers are “overpreparers” who are feeling less than confident considering the changed landscape and prevailing stipulations.

“There are many people who really want to be overprepared, and that is very challenging in this brand-new environment,” he explained. “There are teachers who feel underprepared, not in a negative way, but these are people who are overplanners and overpreparers. This is a new experience for them and they can’t do what they normally do.”

When told about the current mood of district teachers, Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. said he is apprehensive as well.

“I’m anxious, too, and nervous, and worried and making sure everything is going to work out the way we planned it,” he said. “But I’m also optimistic that we’ve done our part. We won’t know until we try.”

Warren, choosing his words carefully, acknowledged the challenges involved with embarking upon a foreign system and, with 250 instructors in the district, the varied opinions on reopening.

“In the two days that we’ve been back, there has been a fair amount of professional development – teaching us how to be good remote or hybrid teachers,” Warren said. “There’s still some of that left to go. But one of the bigger challenges that we have right now is actually implementing a lot of those things.”

He said teachers “need some more time … it’s going to be a process,” but emphasized that the union has not asked administration to push back opening day.

“Every teacher here went to school to learn to teach in an in-person environment. All of these things that we’ve done over our entire careers are completely changed in the virtual or remote environment,” he offered. “Some of the things that may be super effective in the classroom just won’t work in a remote setting – especially since we’ll be seeing the students for about 40 percent (of the time) that we’ve seen them in previous years.”

Warren mentioned that lessons plans requiring sharing of materials or working in small groups “can’t happen in a remote environment, so we have to adapt all of lessons that we’ve done into ones that will work in a remote environment, and that’s going to take time.”

Soler said he understands the emotional strain involved in reopening under these conditions.

“No one has ever opened a school under these requirements or guidelines,” he said “There are some concerns that things could go wrong, but we’re trying to be cautiously optimistic and be strong about it. We’re trying to use common sense … to get the operational stuff going and making sure the kids and staff enter the building safely.”

Considering the daily protocol required just to enter the school building, it isn’t hard to realize that employees would be on edge.

“Every morning when they come in they have to fill out a daily attestation (an official confirmation) that says that they feel good and they don’t have a temperature – any of those things that they’re coming to work on – before we take their temperature at the door,” Soler said. “It’s a brand-new process and if you think about it, it is a bit scary.”

The attestation seeks the answers to several questions, he said.

“Did you check your temperature? You don’t have a fever over 100 degrees. You feel well. You don’t have any symptoms like shortness of breath or fatigue, body aches, fever, chills, sore throat or any loss of taste or smell,” he said. “You haven’t been exposed to anybody with COVID – typical Department of Health protocol questions.”

If the answer is yes to any of those questions, the teacher can come to work and have his or her temperature taken again, Soler said, adding that face coverings must be worn at all times.

Soler said those feeling ill during the day will have to contact their doctor and receive a negative COVID-19 test – “another layer of complications that we can’t control.”

The superintendent said he thinks attitudes will improve with time.

“We’re in day two with the staff and believe that every day that they’re here, the comfort level will get better and better,” he said.

He also stressed that district parents want their children back in school.

“We’re all fearful; we all want this to work. We want our kids back and we want the socialization, the normalcy of that, which will help our families. This community wants to be back in person as much as possible,” he said.

As far as staffing is concerned, Soler said that only a “handful” of teachers have asked for child care leave and one teacher with 38 years of experience decided to retire.

Warren is asking for his members to trust the process.

“There are teachers who are anxious about coming back for health and safety purposes, and there are teachers who are anxious about coming back because we’re doing something we’ve never done before – in terms of remote learning,” he said. “But, just seeing our colleagues this week has been great and seeing our students next week will be great.”

August 10, 2020 - 5:28pm

Update: 6:40 p.m.

Batavia Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr., at tonight's Board of Education meeting, has reported that school will start for students on Sept. 14, following four days of teacher training days -- Sept. 8-11.

He also said that some days scheduled as off days will now be school days, ensuring that there will be 180 days of learning for students.

Soler said that virtual public meetings are being planned for each of the district's schools prior to Aug. 21, as required by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

--------------

Reading, writing, arithmetic, respiratory hygiene.

Teachers will need to be versed in much more than academics during the 2020-21 school year, which gets underway in less than a month.

“We have days at the beginning of the school year that are teacher-only when we’re going to receive some training on COVID procedures along with some professional development on teaching the hybrid model and the virtual model,” said Mark Warren, president of the Batavia Teachers’ Association.

He said the exact training days prior to the date when students return are expected to be determined at the Batavia City School District’s Board of Education meeting at 6:30 tonight. It can be viewed on the district’s YouTube page.

Warren said teachers and other staff will be trained how “to instruct students in proper hand washing, how to cough and sneeze appropriately, and recognizing the symptoms of COVID.”

“I’m not sure if it will be district-led or coordinated by the health department or by another outside person coming in to the school,” he said.

According to the Batavia City School District’s 97-page reopening plan, the district “will ensure all students are taught or trained how to follow new COVID-19 protocols safely and correctly, including but not limited to hand hygiene, proper face covering wearing, social distancing, and respiratory hygiene.”

The plan was developed by the Reopen Batavia Strong Task Force, which included input from the teachers’ union, Warren said.

It spells out that additional training will be provided in:

  • Prevention of disease spreads by staying home when they are sick.
  • Proper respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Avoiding the use of communal objects. If communal objects must be used, provide information on proper disinfection procedures between use. Examples of communal objects include, but are not limited to, other workers’ phones, desks, offices, computers or other devices, other work tools and equipment.
  • Providing employees and students with up-to-date education and training on COVID-19.
  • Risk factors and protective behaviors (i.e., cough etiquette and care of Personal Protective Equipment).

The plan also advises that the district will designate those familiar with the Center for Disease Control and Occupational Safety and Health Administration protocols, and Department of Health guidelines in each building as trained screeners. Screeners will be required to wear Personal Protective Equipment provided by the district.

Warren said students have to wear masks on the bus and when they’re transitioning, but said he believes they are allowed to take them off when they are seated and are six feet apart.

He acknowledged that it could be difficult for the younger children.

“I have a second- and fourth-grader and we’ve been working on it at home,” he said.

On the scholastic side, Warren said some teachers will preside over exclusively online courses and others will have a mix of in-school and virtual.

“My preliminary schedule, for example, has one of the courses as an online-only course, and the rest of the courses are hybrid courses where I’ll see the kids some days and they’ll be remote some days,” he advised.

Warren teaches 11th- and 12th-grade math – calculus and a third-year elective called Math for Trades.

May 28, 2020 - 5:46pm

There will be no change in the daily schedule for students at the four Batavia City School District buildings.

“After thoughtful consideration and collaboration over the last six weeks, the members of the Batavia Teachers’ Association voted against a proposal to change the start and end times at all district buildings,” BTA President Mark Warren said following today's online voting by union members.

District administration had suggested the change during the 2020-21 budget process, maintaining that the proposed starting and ending times would save $200,000 in transportation costs. The outcome of the vote will not affect the passed budget.

With the “no” vote by the teachers, the school day will continue as follows:

-- Batavia High and Batavia Middle, 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

-- John Kennedy Elementary and Jackson Primary, 8:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The proposal called for BHS and BMS to be on 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. schedule, and for JK and Jackson to be on a 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. schedule.

Warren said he exit polls revealed two main concerns.

“The current research on sleep patterns and the school day for teenagers supports a later start time for secondary students, and concerns were also expressed over modifying the students’ schedule in the midst of all of the changes going on due to the pandemic,” Warren said.

He said the BTA’s goal moving forward is “to work collaboratively with district administration as we determine the best path to reopen the school buildings in the fall to ensure the safety of students and employees.”

Warren said all four building votes would have had to be favorable for the measure to pass, but indicated that it was rejected at all four schools.

May 23, 2020 - 9:42am

As the Batavia City School District’s Board of Education worked to reach its goal of a 2020-21 budget with no property tax rate increase, tough decisions had to be made -- most notably the need to cut a significant number of jobs.

At its April 28th meeting, the board announced an across-the-board reduction of at least 30 positions, including administrators, teachers, aides and clerical staff.

Earlier this week, the board passed a $51.4 million spending plan and, according to Business Administrator Scott Rozanski, the impact of those cuts, when converting them to “full-time equivalents,” isn’t as severe as originally believed.

Rozanski today said that 10 of the 33 FTE positions removed from the budget are reductions to existing staff, with seven teachers and one clerical employee losing their jobs. The other two of those 10 FTEs are vacant positions in administration that won’t be filled, he said.

“So, technically, eight permanent employees are affected at this point in time,” Rozanski said.

The remainder of the reductions is as follows:

-- Five FTE via retirements;
-- Seven and a half FTE via resignations;
-- Ten FTE via long-term substitute assignments ending June 30;
-- One half FTE via reductions to the budget (contracted new position).

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for the board’s next meeting at 6 p.m. June 2, and voting will take place by paper ballot on June 9. Ballots were mailed to all eligible voters and must be returned (in a provided postage-paid envelope) by 5 p.m. June 9th to be considered.

The public also will vote on a $619,151 capital project to construct an age-appropriate playground at Jackson Primary School, he said.

In a related development, the Batavia Teachers’ Association will vote next Thursday (May 28) on a proposal to change the school day schedule. 

BTA President Mark Warren said today that voting by employees who work at the four district schools will take place by an online balloting system, and results will be available that evening.

“Each of the four buildings will have separate votes and if they all vote in favor of it, then it will pass,” Warren said.

If approved, it reportedly would save the district about $200,000 in transportation costs.

The proposed schedule change is as follows:

 -- Putting Batavia High and Batavia Middle on a 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. schedule. Currently, the schedule at those two schools is 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

-- Putting John Kennedy and Jackson on a 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. schedule. Currently, the schedule at those two schools is 8:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

May 1, 2020 - 9:50am

The Batavia Teachers’ Association has postponed a vote on a proposal to modify the school day at the four Batavia City School District buildings.

BTA President Mark Warren on Thursday night said that the vote – actually four separate votes by those who work at Batavia High, Batavia Middle, John Kennedy Intermediate and Jackson Primary schools – will not take place today as originally planned.

“We want to work out some of the wrinkles and provide answers to the questions that some of our members have before voting,” Warren said. “We haven’t set a new date yet, but it will not be before the next Board of Education meeting on May 5th.”

School Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. raised the possibility of changing the school day schedules earlier this week as a cost-cutting measure as the district maneuvers to close what once was a $1.6 million budget gap.

Soler said that $200,000 in transportation costs would be achieved by the following:

-- Putting Batavia High and Batavia Middle on a 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. schedule. Currently, the schedule at those two schools is 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

-- Putting John Kennedy and Jackson on a 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. schedule. Currently, the schedule at those two schools is 8:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

This would enable the district to use fewer buses across the four schools, a tiered approach that also would give every student in the district the opportunity to ride a bus if they so desired, Soler said.

On Tuesday night, the Board of Education authorized the cutting of 30 positions to slash more than $1.5 million in expenses.

A favorable vote on the school day schedule – in all likelihood all four buildings would have to pass it -- would enable the district to wash away a $47,000 budget shortfall and meet the state-mandated property tax cap, thus avoiding a 60-percent plus one supermajority vote of the public to pass the budget.

Contacted this morning, BOE President Pat Burk said he hadn’t heard about the vote postponement, but didn’t think that would affect the board’s plan to vote on the budget on Tuesday.

“Actually, we have been looking at areas other than personnel to find another $47,000 to cut,” Burk said. “The vote to change the school day schedule, if passed, would provide extra funding that we likely will need down the road not knowing what is going to happen with state aid.”

Burk said he thinks changing the schedules could help attendance, since all students would be able to get a ride to school, and have little impact upon extracurricular afterschool activities such as sports and music.

April 21, 2020 - 8:09am

The Batavia City School District is facing the possibility of cutting up to 9 percent of its staff to close a $1.9 million gap in its 2020-21 budget.

Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. on Monday said that up to 30 employees – from administrators to part-time clerical workers – may have to be laid off as a result of the Board of Education’s decision to deliver a final budget with little or no property tax increase.

“The original plan was to propose a tax cap override, with a 2.66 percent property tax increase that would have meant (an additional) $60 per year for a home assessed at $100,000,” Soler said. “Now it’s gone up to 9 percent, which is not possible. The board’s position is to have a zero percent tax increase, especially with so many people losing their jobs.”

Longtime Board President Patrick Burk concurred, adding that seeking a tax cap override – and the 60 percent plus one vote to pass – would put the budget in jeopardy and “undermine any stability that we could give for the coming year.”

Soler said the district was looking at a shortfall of about $1.5 million when he was hired in January. That number grew by another $400,000 (less state aid) when the New York State budget was adopted earlier this month.

The initial $1.5 million deficit is directly related to personnel expenditures, Business Administrator Scott Rozanski said.

“The increase in salary from the rollover of current staffing and the collective bargaining agreements and benefits associated with payroll” are key factors in the gap, Rozanski said, adding that the COVID-19 impact has yet to be fully determined.

Additional state aid cuts approaching?

He said that because the state also foresees a budget shortfall projected to be as high as $15 million, there could be more school aid cuts down the road.

“The state has set four separate measurement periods where state aid could be adjusted,” Rozanski explained. “Locally, we will need to put more resources towards cleaning and our technology needs will change as our instructional program changes. Next year will not be a normal year. Everything we do will be evaluated and potentially impacted.”

In an effort to avoid large-scale layoffs for the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1, Soler said that he asked the Batavia Teachers’ Association to consider a one-year pay freeze. About 70 percent of the district’s expenses are related to payroll and fringe benefits.

“My priorities are, one, no increases in taxes to the community; second, balancing our budget and (third) trying to protect people during what are unprecedented times that we haven’t seen since the situation we had in 2008 with the economic fall nationally,” Soler said.

As it stands now, Soler may be able to accomplish two of those three objectives because the teachers’ union declined to accept his call for a wage freeze.

Soler: Seeking ‘to protect teachers’

“When I spoke to the union president, I was told that they were not interested in discussing any options regarding a pay freeze. My understanding is that they didn’t even put it out there for their members to vote,” Soler said.

“I had to ask it before I went through the process. Would you be willing to take a pay freeze so that we can protect teachers and not lay off somebody who just came into the profession – first- and second-year teachers? Now, I may not be able to protect people with these additional adjustments,” he said. “I thought I was going to be in a pretty good spot if we were to have taken a pay freeze and protected the entire workforce – at least guaranteed them employment into next year and see what these adjustments look like from the governor.”

Soler said that the average salary with benefits for the district’s educators was around $80,000, with first-year teachers’ total compensation package valued at $64,000. “Some are making over $100,000,” he said, while some administrators earn substantially more than that.

Burk said he also was hoping that the union would agree to what he called a “one-year extension of what currently is in its contract.”

“I was told that the teachers didn’t vote on it … it was just decided that that was not going to be part of the discussion,” Burk said. “If we can’t come up with payroll lessening by wage freeze, we have to look at other areas. But that doesn’t come up with the $1.5 million that is required at this time.”

BTA President: Don’t pin this on us

Mark Warren, president of the Batavia Teachers’ Association, said the burden of correcting the budget gap shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of the union, which is completing the first year of a three-year contract.

“All I know is that before state (aid) runs came out, before they decided not to go with a tax levy increase, they already had a deficit (for 2020-21),” Warren said. “They were talking about that at the budget ambassador meetings prior to the closure. They’re going to say that flat state aid is part of it, but they were already talking deficit before state aid was flat.”

Warren, a math teacher in is 16th year at Batavia, said he discussed the proposal with membership, but the feeling was that the request wasn’t justified.

“When they first brought it up, he (Soler) mentioned that we have added 30 or so teachers in the last eight or nine years, while enrollment has basically stayed flat. He characterized it as an overstaffing issue in the beginning and then asked for a pay freeze after that,” he said.

“To be clear, the only real proposal was ‘I’m going to lay off a bunch of people if you don’t take a pay freeze.’ If we are overstaffed like he claimed in the beginning, then why would we take a pay freeze so that we’d be overstaffed a year from now? It’s not like we’re suddenly going to get this influx of students where we are going to need another 20 extra teachers, where we don’t need them now. If we are overstaffed now, we’d be overstaffed a year from now.”

Burk said that roughly 30 positions could be cut, with the dollar amount of those cuts to be determined by the next board meeting on April 28.

Executive vs. open session discussions

Soler said that position cuts were discussed in executive session at a recent meeting, a move that was appropriate since it focused on specific people in some cases.

“Some of the positions are standalone positions, so there’s only one person attached to it. So that’s why that we didn’t discuss them publicly,” he said. “The next time we meet you’ll probably see more of a public discussion around that only because the board would have had the opportunity to process that, make some recommendations and give me some guidance. So, I’ll be going in and trying to adhere to that guidance.”

The superintendent also said his request for a pay freeze was discussed in an open session, but there was no talk of changes to the union’s contract.

“What I asked them to do was, if you want to help us avoid layoffs, we would love for you to take a pay freeze for the year. That was the only contract item that was discussed, and that would not be something that would require to reopen their contract,” he said. “If all of our employees, if all of our bargaining units were not to take a pay increase, it would save the district $1.5 million. And I even included myself it that conversation. I would not take an increase as well.”

Staff cuts to be across the board

With a moratorium on pay increases off the table, Burk said the board is taking steps to reduce expenses on a department-by-department basis.

“As far as specific positions, we haven’t gotten into that, but we have said what we would do with specific departments,” he said. “This is going all the way across the board. This is administrators being cut, teachers, teacher aides, custodial, food service, clerical. It’s everybody.”

The board is proceeding judiciously, Burk said.

“Our goal is to have the highest contact with students and the greatest impact with students that we possibly can,” he stated. “Cuts would be people who do not have direct, hands-on daily contact with our students; that’s obviously our most important thing.”

Soler said he expects more clarity at the April 28th meeting, mentioning a detailed list of recommendations that will be shared with the “greater public.”

“Then we can say that it is this many science teachers, it is this many math teachers, it is this many reading teachers and it is this many administrators because it’s every group that is going to be impacted.”

October 28, 2014 - 5:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, health, Batavia Teachers' Association.

A couple dozen vendors participated today in a community health fair at the Batavia Middle School sponsored by Batavia Teachers' Association.

Above, Jen Housknecht gives a zumba demonstration class. Below, a visit with the booth for Genesee Dental.

June 10, 2013 - 12:10am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, schools, education, Batavia Teachers' Association.

Photo and information provided by Mark Warren, VP Batavia Teachers' Association:

Members of the Batavia Teachers' Association and their families attended the NYSUT One Voice United rally on Saturday June 8th in Albany.

Speakers representing parents, teachers, and various other groups highlighted the major issues that need to be addressed to help our students and our schools including over-reliance on expensive corporate developed tests, equitable funding of schools, and protecting the safety and privacy of students and staff.

Over 20,000 teachers, parents, and students attended the event.

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