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Time to downsize the school board?

Every 10 years, the School Board has to redistrict, based on the latest census figures.

It's that time right now.

The line-drawing exercise is likely to have significant implications.

Right now, there are nine board members.

School board on city hall stepsSix of them (Sharon Belton-Cottman, Ralph Hernandez, Ruth Kapsiak, Lou Petrucci, Jason McCarthy and Rosalyn Taylor) each represent a certain geographic district of the city. (You can find a map of the existing district lines here.) The board members representing a specific district serve three-year terms. Those seats are up in the May 2013 election.

The other three board members (Florence Johnson, John Licata and Barbara Seals Nevergold) are at-large members, representing the entire city. They serve five-year terms. Those seats are up in the May 2014 election.

There's talk floating around City Hall that it might be time to downsize the board. One reason: The district is not as big as it was a decade ago -- it has lost about 10,000 students, or one-fourth of its population, most of it to charter schools.

(Of course, there are also arguments for maintaining the size of the board -- although enrollment has declined, state and federal requirements have increased, accountability measures have reached an entirely new level, and the district needs to improve student achievement more than ever right now.)

One downsizing option being floated would involve keeping the six district seats and eliminating the at-large seats. That would leave a six-member board, so a seventh district seat would have to be added to maintain an odd number.

Clearly, this is going to be a highly charged debate.

And not just because every one of the nine sitting board members has a strong interest in watching out for their own interests -- but also because the Common Council has the final say. To put it mildly, the Common Council is generally less than enamored with the School Board at the moment.

Here's how this is going to work: Each board member has appointed someone to a nine-member advisory committee. Well, with the exception of Ralph Hernandez, who, as vice president of executive affairs, is going to chair the committee himself. That means Hernandez will be the only School Board member with a direct vote on the advisory committee.

The advisory committee will vote on a recommendation or recommendations. That will go to the School Board, which will then weigh in on it. From there, the public has a chance to weigh on. And then the School Board gets to vote on the plan before sending it to the Common Council. The council then has the final word.

It's anybody's guess which way this will shake out.

What seems likely, though, is that the effects will be seen the next time you cast a ballot in a School Board election. Hernandez, as chair of the committee, says he wants to move forward with an aggressive schedule, so that the final plan is in place by December or January.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/MaryPasciak    [email protected]
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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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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