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5 newcomers could become School Board majority Future of Williams' reforms at issue

The Buffalo Board of Education, currently a willing partner in Superintendent James A. Williams' sweeping reform effort, will have a dramatically different look later this year.

Five of the six incumbents whose seats will be up for grabs in the May 1 board election have either decided not to seek re-election or have not yet decided whether to run.

If all five bow out, the nine-member board will have a majority of new members when the election winners take office in July.

That raises the possibility that Williams will be dealing with a less-supportive board two years into his three-year contract. At the very least, Williams, who has worked hard to maintain solid support on the board, will have to cultivate similar relationships with new members.

Most board members who have decided not to seek re-election or who are still making up their minds said one of their qualms is leaving the board in the midst of dramatic turnover.

"It's not an easy decision because I support everything Williams is doing," said North District board member Donald Van Every, who is leaving after 10 years. "Hopefully, candidates will be running to help him and not to hurt him."

Williams, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on the board elections.

All six district board seats will be on the May 1 ballot for three-year terms. Here are the plans of the incumbents:

Jack Coyle, a former board president who pushed for years to end social promotion, is leaving after 12 years as the Park District representative. "It's time for some fresh blood," he said.

Van Every, an expert on district finances, decided to bow out following discussions with his wife.

Ferry District member Betty Jean Grant said she will not run for re-election if she is successful in winning appointment to a vacant seat on the Erie County Legislature. That should be known within a few weeks.

Vivian Evans, the East District board member, and Janique Curry, who represents the Central District, said they are undecided about seeking re-election.

Ralph Hernandez, the West District representative, is the only district board member definitely running for another term.

The seats of at-large board members Florence Johnson, Christopher Jacobs and Catherine Collins are not on the ballot this year.

Jacobs, who is considering a run for county executive, said he plans to retain his board seat even if he decides to campaign for the county post.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said that the BTF will be active in the board races and that the union's main priority will be helping to elect representatives with "integrity" and who promise not to unilaterally violate contract provisions.

That concern arises from the current board's decision to switch to single-carrier health insurance for teachers without obtaining union consent.

The BTF also will look for board members willing to seek input from teachers and principals, who now, Rumore claimed, are "completely ignored."

But Rumore, who has clashed repeatedly with Williams, said the BTF will not seek to make the election a referendum on the superintendent's leadership. "Policies are more important than any one person," Rumore said.

Lou Petrucci, a City of Buffalo building inspector who is running for the Park District seat, said it is understandable why so many incumbents would bow out.

"It's a lot of work, it takes a lot of time, and it doesn't pay very much," he said of the $5,000-per-year post. "You do it because you love it."

A training seminar for prospective board candidates is being held from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, 712 Main St.

The program, sponsored by several educational and community groups, includes sessions on Buffalo's three-year academic improvement plan, legal issues, the mechanics of board elections and dealing with the news media.

More information is available by calling 852-6120.


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