Buffalo Board of Education President Ralph Hernandez made an impassioned plea to his fellow board members Wednesday night to repeal the residency rule for district employees.
As the policy now stands, employees of the Buffalo Public Schools must live in the city (unless they were hired before 1992, when the residency rule went into effect). New hires get six months to comply. Some teachers -- those teaching in "high need" areas, which currently include special education and math -- are exempt, by virtue of a 2002 amendment to the residency policy.
Hernandez argues that requiring teachers to live in the city restricts the potential talent pool unnecessarily.
"We need to get the best and brightest. We should have no barriers whatsoever in looking out there to attract best professionals out there," he said. "Nowhere in the roles and responsibilities of a board member is it stated the Board of Ed is responsible for growing the population of the city, generating revenues or protecting the integrity of the tax base. That’s not the responsibility of the Board of Ed. That’s why they have a Common Council."
Of the 50 biggest school districts in the country, only two have a residency policy, he said. In Buffalo, Superintendent James A. Williams supports repealing the residency policy, Hernandez pointed out, as do the president of the teachers union and the president of the administrators union.
Granted, the full board was not there Wednesday when Hernandez made his presentation at a committee meeting -- Vivan Evans and Mary Ruth Kapsiak were not there -- but none of Hernandez's colleagues on the board spoke in support of repealing the residency rule.
"I do believe residency needs to be tweaked a little, yes, but rescinded, no," Lou Petrucci said. "Granted, it does limit the pool (of job candidates). But other things have a larger impact, like having lower salaries than our suburban counterparts, or not hiring people until September or October."
Florence Johnson said she thinks it's important for teachers to be stakeholders in the community they work in, to help advocate for those who have trouble advocating for themselves. Jason McCarthy agreed.
"I just feel that teachers, they need to be invested in our community," he said. "By being invested in the community, they have to live in the neighborhoods, in the borders of the city."
The board could vote on residency as soon as next week. But you don't have to wait that long to weigh in.
- Mary Pasciak