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Should a school board president be held to a higher standard?

   If you've looked in your e-mail inbox today, you may have found something that's become common in the Internet age: forwarded e-mail messages.

   Some of the things that fly across the Web in forwarded e-mails are links to videos, chain letters and other attempts at humor.

   But also sent en masse are messages of, to put it broadly, questionable taste.

   Lew-Port School Board President Robert J. Weller has a list of friends and fellow school board members to whom he forwards messages he considers funny.

   But many people aren't laughing, according to a story in today's Buffalo News. 

   Weller said he never intended to offend anyone, claims he's not racist and contends he's not the only person who forwards these kinds of e-mails.

   He sent the e-mails from his personal e-mail account, not his school district account, and used his own computer, too.

   "The president of the school board is no more holy than a minister, and a minister probably sends a lot more stuff than I do," Weller said. "These are just jokes. If somebody wanted to take offense they had the opportunity to shut if off, just like a radio."

   Weller has been defended by board colleague Edward M. Lilly, who said he doesn't know what these e-mails have to do with the school.

   Critics say this type of conduct should not be condoned in a school board president.

   "At the educational level, tolerance and acceptance are important," board member Michael J. Gentile said. "And these [e-mails] call that into question."

   -- Aaron Besecker

Read the full story.

Departing Lew-Port School Board member won't go quietly

   Longtime Lewiston-Porter School Board member Edward Lilly has at least one more salvo planned before leaving the board at the end of the month. It involves fellow board members he believes have done him and district residents wrong - and the Ten Commandments.

   Lilly plans to bring a measure before the board that would display the Commandments in each of the district's four schools, which would "keep the board from doing things they have done in the past," he told The Buffalo News for a story in today's Niagara edition.

   Lilly said that his proposal for posting the Ten Commandments was prompted by what he felt were accusations of sexism made against him by opponents in his unsuccessful re-election bid to the school board. Also a factor in his proposal, he said, was the decision by fellow board members to allow a male teacher to quietly resign in 2007 after having a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old female student.

   Even though there are secular aspects to the commandments - like a prohibition on killing and a call to honor one's parents - there are impressionable minds who may take such a display as a school's sponsorship of religion, said Jay Worona, general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association.

   The U.S. Supreme Court already has decided that the Ten Commandments should not be displayed on school grounds, Worona said.

   Lilly is undaunted by such talk, and vows to press for a school board vote on the matter.

   It won't be the first time he's looked to impose his will.

   He and fellow board member Scott A. Stepien were booted off the board by a board 4-2 vote in June 2007 for failing to take a financial oversight course. They were reinstated the following spring, after State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills decided that removing the pair was too harsh a sanction. In his first move upon his return, Lilly sponsored two resolutions that would have required two former board members who spearheaded his ouster to pay their own legal expenses in $100,000 libel and slander lawsuits Lilly filed against them.

   In April, Lilly also successfully got a proposal on last month's school election ballot seeking to reduce the size of the board from seven members to five, after he and his school board supporters were warned the district didn't have enough time to carry out the legal steps to properly put the proposal before voters.

   It's a track record that leads to this question: What is motivating Lilly to pitch the Ten Commandments idea now?

Does Granto's sister have inside track to succeed him?

In a little more than four weeks, the Niagara Falls School Board expects to name a permanent superintendent.

So far, none of the six candidates has been interviewed, as reported in a story in today's Buffalo News.

While some view interim Superintendent Cynthia Bianco -- sister of former Superintendent Carmen Granto -- as the favorite for the position, others say the board is just working through the process.
What do you think -- is Bianco going to get the district's top job?
-- Aaron Besecker

Tuesday was a tough night for several Niagara County School Board incumbents

   Lilly and Stepien in Lewiston-Porter.

   Arbeiter and Robertson in North Tonawanda.

   And Stypa, it appears, in Niagara Falls.

   On Tuesday, a few incumbents on area school boards took a fall thanks to voters.

   Proposed budgets also were approved by voters in each of the 10 districts in Niagara County.

   And two controversial ballot questions, one in Wilson and one in Lew-Port, were shot down.

   Are you satisfied with the results?

Disillusionment at Lew-Port

   Lewiston-Porter School Superintendent R. Christopher Roser took charge of the district
eight months ago.

   Judging by a memo he sent to School Board members earlier this month, it hasn't taken him
very long to grow at least slightly frustrated with the workings of the board.

   Here's some of what Roser wrote in the two-page, May 1 memo, a copy of which was obtained
by The Buffalo News:

   "I am greatly disappointed in my inability to bring the board together in making an
important decision. We are now divided and not operating as a team/family. I have become
increasingly disillusioned over the past month, with my inability to not only bring the board
together on important issues, but to avoid serious clashes and prevent the board from
regressing into a dysfunctional abyss. I feel the support I have from the full board is
waning. Unfortunately, my inability to affect positive change fuels this disillusionment into
an ever downward spiral."

   At the time he wrote the memo, Roser was in the middle of dealing with a proposal to place
a referendum on Tuesday's ballot that would, if approved, shrink the board from seven to five
members in 2010.

   He told The News on Thursday he sent the memo with the intention of encouraging members to
change their ways, otherwise he would look to leave.

   -- Aaron Besecker

The Lew-Port School Board steps into the CWM expansion debate

   The Lewiston-Porter School Board entered territory last month where it has yet to venture, voting 6-1 to ask the state Department of Environmental Conservation to consider the impact Chemical Waste Management's hazardous waste landfill has on the school district before approving an increase in the amount of waste CWM can store.

   "Trucks hauling debris containing hazardous materials pass the Lewiston-Porter campus on a daily basis," the resolution said, "and the Lewiston-Porter Board of Education wishes to ultimately eliminate hazardous waste truck traffic."

   Local governments in the two towns have been vocal in expressing concerns about the landfill expansion, but this is the first time the school board has passed such a resolution, according a story in today's Niagara & Region section.

   Board President Robert Weller, the lone vote against the resolution, said the school board was overstepping its bounds in pressuring the DEC to reject CWM's expansion plans.

   "We are trying to shut down a legitimate, law-abiding, high-tech business that provides a service: removing and isolating from us the very hazards that we produce or use in our everyday lives."

   A CWM official also pointed out that the company pays about $750,000 in taxes annually to the district.

   Board member Michael Gentile said during the April 21 meeting, "I don't see anywhere where it says [in the resolution that] we're shutting anybody down."

   Should the district have become involved in this issue?

Starpoint pupil may be in sixth grade, but already is thinking big

   A sixth-grader at Starpoint Middle School appeared on national television Thursday morning after taking third place in a student documentary competition.

   Michael Pyskaty, who won the prize in the middle school category, was interviewed on C-SPAN's morning show "Washington Journal."

   The network showed a clip of his video about the auto industry, which included interviews with local officials, including Starpoint Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan, Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker and State Sen. George D. Maziarz.

   Competitors were asked the following question: "A message to the new president: What is the most urgent issue for the new president to address after taking office, and why?"

   Click below to watch the C-SPAN segment, as well as Pyskaty's full documentary.

Catholic education still holds meaning - but for a thinning student flock

   Back in the 1950s and '60s, during the heyday of Catholic education in the city of Niagara Falls, there were 11 elementary schools.

   The city bustled with businesses along Main Street and downtown, the population was roughly twice what it is today and a significant percentage of its high school graduates came from Catholic high schools.

   Today, Niagara Catholic — the only Catholic high school in Niagara County — has graduating classes about one-fifth the size of those during the golden years of religious-based education.

   And there are only two Catholic elementary schools in the Falls.

   It's not that those who choose this less traveled road aren't better off for it — in both moral and educational terms.

   These are numbers that don't lie: the school boasts a 100 percent graduation rate and 99 percent college placement rate, Niagara Correspondent Caitlin Murray tells us in today's Niagara Weekend section.

   But there are other numbers, too: the $250,000 Niagara Catholic has to come up with to keep its doors open in the fall, and the plan to raise tuition by 20 percent next school year, from $5,600 to $6,700.

   For those who love Catholic education, and their economically struggling city, those are the kind of numbers that make one weep.

— News Niagara Editor Scott Scanlon

Wilson's coaching vacancies tough to fill

   Officials in the Wilson School District say they've had a hard time finding individuals willing to coach the varsity and junior varsity baseball teams this spring.

   The only two people that have thrown their names in the hat are two volunteer coaches who were on the bus when an incident of alleged sexual abuse happened in April.

   School officials haven't yet filled the positions -- vacant because the two head coaches who were also on the bus at the time are awaiting trial on child endangerment charges.

   The Board of Education's Jan. 13 agenda included the potential hiring of John M. Thilk, 47, and Gerard "Jerry" J. Kadryna, 60. But any action was put on hold following the outcry of several parents.

   The district posted the jobs again, and the application period ends today.

   "We're striving to do the best we can with coaches to keep the baseball season going this year," School Board President Timothy F. Kropp said. "If you don't get qualified coaches, you don't have a season."

   School officials said the hirings could be finalized when the board meets on Feb. 10. Spring baseball practice is scheduled to begin March 2, and the season starts April 3.

   If the district can't find any other applicants, should Thilk and Kadryna be hired?

   -- Aaron Besecker

Financial failings at Falls school district

   After 16 years running the Niagara Falls school district, School Superintendent Carmen A. Granto has come under fire in a state audit that found almost three dozen problems related to the way the district handles business operations.

   The audit states Granto accepted $10,800 in vacation pay he was not entitled to and used a district credit card to pay for private business dealings he had in Florida. The district also took a number of other criticisms for the way it has conducted business operations during Granto's reign.

   Granto, who has repaid the money in dispute, plans to retire on June 30 after 42 years with the district. Despite his current predicament, the Falls native and lifelong resident has been a popular superintendent who has been able to balance the education of children with the needs of residents in a very poor city school district.

   The district has gone 16 years without raising the property tax levy because Granto says the people in this city can't afford it. He has accomplished that in part with the help of closing several schools and with staff layoffs, and by aggressively going after grant money. But he's also led the way in building three new schools during the past 13 years.

   He admits things got sloppy on the business side of things. He said he has reimbursed the district for any overpayments to himself, such as a credit card reimbursement for an outside consulting trip and mistakenly given vacation pay. He said he also has gone after other
district money that has been accidentally misappropriated, including the extra week of
paychecks for more than $500,000 that were given to 272 district employees during the 2005-06
school year.

   He also said the School Board is tightening up controls to prevent any such mistakes from happening again.

   Meanwhile, don't feel too sorry for the superintendent for his financial predicament.

   Payments approved by the School Board in his contract during his last three years on the job have boosted his salary, normally about $130,000, to just over $200,000, and will be used
to calculate his state pension.

  -- Paul Westmoore

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