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Should Buffalo teachers have to live in Buffalo?

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).

Ralph Hernandez "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."

Lou Petrucci 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

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

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Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |