A New York State Supreme Court justice last month ordered a teacher and a guidance counselor reinstated to their jobs, with about a year of backpay dating back to when they were fired for allegedly living outside the Falls. Implementation of the district's residency, the judge ruled, is so flawed that it's "unenforceable, incomplete ... arbitrary and capricious."
As the case works its way through the appeals process, Buffalo Board of Education members are paying close attention. Buffalo teachers currently are required to live in the city, unless they teach in a "high-need" area, such as special education.
Brendan Kelleher, general counsel for the Buffalo schools, says Buffalo should keep an eye on the Falls residency case -- but adds that it's too early to draw any conclusions about the case's implications for the Queen City. Still, at a committee meeting Wednesday evening, a number of Buffalo board members said they think it's time to take a good look at the city's residency policy, which is set by the board (not negotiated with the union as part of the teachers contract).
"My preference would be to repeal the residency rule altogether. Last thing we need is barriers for hiring the best people we possibly can," said board president Ralph Hernandez, who has advocated before for axing the policy.
"I know the city has a concern in regard to property tax revenues. In my view, that’s not the responsibility of the board, to grow the city’s tax base. Our responsibility is to make sure we have the best education system possible, and that includes hiring the best personnel possible."
Superintendent James A. Williams agrees with Hernandez.
"I think people should be allowed to live wherever they want and work in the system," Williams said. "It gives us a larger pool (of potential employees). Right now we are restricted. If you don’t live in the city, in six months, we terminate you."
Board member Lou Petrucci says it's time to revisit the issue, but adds that he wants to see the residency rule stay in effect -- ideally, alongside some sort of financial incentive offered by the city, as it once did, such as cash toward a downpayment on a house in Buffalo. And, he says, particular situations might warrant some flexibility on the district's part, such as in the case of a married couple where each spouse teaches in a different district, with each one requiring residency.
"But I would love to have teachers who live in the city who can relate to kids in the city," Petrucci said. "I think it adds value, and I think it makes for a better district."
- Mary Pasciak