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The back story on that board vacancy -- and your chance to vote

This week, the Buffalo School Board will make an important decision about how to fill a vacancy left by at large member Chris Jacobs.

Technically, voters don't get a voice in how the seat should be filled. But if you read to the end of this post (or even scroll down to it), you can make your voice heard. So bear with me while I run through the basics of this issue -- along with some inside info you may not be aware of.

School boardThis will be the third vacancy in a year filled by the board, meaning one-third of its members will soon be appointed, rather than elected by voters.

Under state law, the board can go about filling the seat however it wants to, as long as it's by a majority board vote.

Today's story lays out the options in detail.

Here's the nutshell version: In the past, the board has appointed one of its district members to the at large vacancy. Two board members, Lou Petrucci and Mary Ruth Kapsiak, have said they want the seat. They argue that, given the enormity of issues facing the board, someone with more experience should get the seat.

Another argument involves the fact that the board has one month to fill the seat. Some people believe that may not be enough time to interview all those who are interested.

If the board moves Petrucci or Kapsiak into the at large seat, that would create a vacancy in either the Park District (South Buffalo) or Central District. The board would most likely then fill that district vacancy by asking for resumes of people living in that district who want the seat and interviewing those interested.

At least three board members (plus Jacobs, who won't be voting on this issue) have said they think the process should be opened up so that anybody in the city can apply for the at large position -- Jacobs was elected by voters across the city, some point out. And if sitting board members want to apply, they're welcome to -- along with everyone else. Petrucci and Kapsiak should be able to make the case for why they deserve the seat, some say.

Given all the interest in the city's schools, the board is likely to get a strong field of applicants from across Buffalo, some believe.

If the board opens up the process to anyone in the city, it's hard to predict who might get the seat.

If the board appoints Petrucci, there are signals that a clear favorite has already emerged to fill the Park District seat that would be vacated.

For months, there's been one name in particular I've heard being floated as the most likely to join the School Board next: Jack Coyle.

Sound familiar?

It should. Coyle was on the board for 12 years (including a couple as president), through 2007, when he decided not to seek re-election.

Jack CoyleOver the summer, when there was talk that Board President Lou Petrucci had his eye on a seat on the Common Council (something Petrucci vehemently denied when I asked him about it), Coyle's name was already swirling as the preferred candidate to take Petrucci's seat on the board representing South Buffalo.

And now that Petrucci has expressed interest in the at large vacancy created by Chris Jacobs' resignation, Coyle's name is circulating again.

Coyle says he hasn't made up his mind, but is considering seeking the board seat, if Petrucci gets the at large spot and that opens up the Park District seat. After a four-year break, he'd be ready to get back on the board, he said.

"I think they have some really critical decisions to make, and I would love to be involved," Coyle said.

But, he says, if he has to compete against Petrucci for the at large seat, he will opt out.

Coyle, whose wife is a retired teacher, says he was often at odds with BTF President Phil Rumore. Coyle is also not shy about his allegiances on the board: He has for years been close friends with Florence Johnson, he said. In fact, were Johnson not on the board, Coyle would likely not consider putting his hat in the ring, he said.

So there you have it.

Now, how do you think the board should go about filling its at large vacancy?

Here's your chance to weigh in:



- 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.

@denisejewellgee |

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 |