Share this article

print logo

Many and varied reasons for school board departures Nine members have resigned their seats in five county districts over the past year

The hours can be long, and often inconvenient. Personality conflicts and public criticism often come with the territory. Millions in taxpayer dollars figure into the mix of responsibilities.

And the pay? There isn't any.

It isn't easy being a school board member -- as several Niagara County school districts have learned the hard way during the past year.

During that span, nine school board members have resigned from five of Niagara County's 10 public school districts before their terms expired -- including five since last month.

Three left the Starpoint School Board. Three left in Newfane. The Niagara-Wheatfield, Lockport and North Tonawanda boards each lost one.

That's close to 12 percent of the county's 76 school board members.

"If people knew what they were getting themselves into when they were running for a school board, no one would run," said James E. Reineke.

Reineke stepped down as president of the Newfane School Board after a year in which the board had to replace another board member who resigned and a superintendent who retired. The board also had to deal with a state comptroller's audit that criticized the district for poor practices, including who got district-owned computers and how those computers were used.

Clark Godshall, superintendent of the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services, called the school board departures unusual but not alarming.

"If it got up to 20 percent then I'd look for a root cause," Godshall said. "But I've talked to some of those people, and there doesn't appear to be many common linkages in terms of why people are leaving."

The mini-exodus started started last August, when Mark F. Domino left the Starpoint School Board because he moved into the Clarence School District. He said goodbye just over two months after he was re-elected to a second three-year term.

On Sept. 19, Lois J. Farley left the Newfane School Board for "personal reasons" after 12 years of service and with about three years left in her five-year term.

Then Patty L. Crider of the Niagara-Wheatfield School Board left office in January because she got a nursing job that required her to work nights, making it impossible for her to attend board meetings. She had served on the board for nearly nine years.

A month later, Lockport School Board President W. Keith McNall resigned his post to take a seat on the Niagara County Legislature.

The pace quickened last month.

North Tonawanda Assistant Fire Chief Leon Szczerbinski quit his city's board after serving one year of his first three-year term. He has not returned calls about why he left office.

Then two more Starpoint board members, Kelly V. Zarcone and Mark J. Montazzoli, left office for family and personal reasons, respectively, just over a month after they were elected to the board. Zarcone had just won a second three-year term. Montazzoli, who had served four years, was to complete the last two years of the term Domino left behind last summer.

Finally, Reineke and Newfane School Board Vice President Carol Savigny resigned their posts earlier this month following a grueling, work-heavy year.

Reineke, 22, said he left primarily to further his education and become an officer in the U.S. Army, while Savigny left to spend more time with her family.

>No statewide trend seen

School Boards Association spokesman Eric Randall said the organization hasn't received many calls about similar departures across the state.

"I think we would if this was a statewide trend," he said, "but the sentiments some people have expressed concerning the workload are something we'd want to watch."

"School board positions are certainly not for the fainthearted," he added. "It's a demanding role, [and] it's very important."

A 2005 association survey of school board members statewide showed many put in a lot of time each week on their volunteer jobs but also revealed that only 4 percent spent more than 20 hours a week on school district business, while 42.6 percent spent zero to five hours.

The survey said 36.5 percent of board members put in six to 10 hours; 11.6 percent put in 11 to 15 hours; and 5.6 percent put in 16 to 20 hours, Randall said.

Resignations depend a lot on circumstances, and that changes with every individual, said Barbara Bradley, the association's deputy director of communications.

"If you move, have a job conflict, leave for some other specific reason or have family reasons and feel you can't be an effective board member, then people do what's right for themselves and their communities," Bradley said. "It's understandable. We all have to make our choices.

"It's a demanding job. You're dealing with kids' education. That's important. And then you're also dealing with your neighbors' money, so to speak, and have to be cognizant of the fiscal side of things. All that takes time. You have to give a hand to those who volunteer because it pulls them away from other things they could be doing, and, in some instances, that means family and jobs.

"You can't fault them for stepping back."

Farley said a school board takes up a lot of time and that represented part of the reason she left office.

"When I was on the board, I'd say I never worked less than eight hours a week," Farley said. "But then there was the extreme circumstance, where you're attending several meetings and working on other matters, and find you've put in 40 hours.

"The hours you spend really depend on what's going on at any particular time. When you're in the midst of hiring a principal or finding a superintendent or a business administrator, you spend a lot more time because you're doing interviews, looking at resumes and that kind of thing."

Zarcone, a lawyer who spent much time preparing for board meetings and asked many probing questions about issues before the board, said she left because she wanted to spend more time with her family. Her two children, ages 5 and 7, attend Starpoint schools.

"It was so much work, and it's so important you can't just do it halfway," Zarcone said. "I found I was often putting in 15 hours a week. . . . At first, I really tried to fit it all in whenever I could. I'd be up late at night working on it, but I found it was taking away a lot more time from my family than I really wanted it to."

She said she would have stayed on for her second term if it hadn't been for the Aug. 28 special vote being held for the public to approve the purchase of 83 acres adjacent to the district's Mapleton Road campus.

"I wouldn't want to have caused another election, but when I saw they were going to have a vote anyway, it gave me an out," she said.

>Personal things on hold

Montazzoli, also now a former Starpoint board member, said he resigned for personal reasons that had nothing to do with his board workload of about eight to 10 hours a week.

"I don't know why people are leaving, but there are a lot of things that could cause that . . .," he said. "Being on the board does take a toll."

Montazzoli also said being a board member requires dealing with complex matters that include development of multimillion-dollar budgets, negotiating union contracts and trying to balance the cost of educating children with the needs of taxpayers.

"You can feel like your being tugged at from both sides," he said.

In Newfane, Reineke, who had been on the board since 2003, said he decided to leave office because, "I've put a lot of personal things on hold for quite a while."

He said being on the Newfane board this past year took a real toll on board members.

"This year our board was challenged to replace a board member [Farley]. Just after that, we had to hire a new superintendent [to replace retiring Superintendent James N. Mills]. Those two tasks alone took up 100 hours each.

"There were countless interviews screening candidates for both positions, and the board had to commit to making time where it could sit together and discuss what qualifications we wanted to see in a candidate for superintendent . . .

"I can't even begin to say how much time we put into responding to the state audit. It was so time-consuming. We had to hold a number of workshops where we discussed every issue and had to get everyone to agree on every response. It was a pretty difficult task."

That all was done in addition to preparing for and attending regular board meetings, he said.

Despite its sometimes grueling aspects, Reineke said that if a person gets on the board for the right reasons and does what he or she feels is best for the students and the community, "You get a good feeling out of it."

Randall agreed.

"It's a very selfless and honorable way invest your time and help your community," he said. "A lot of people who do it find it enormously rewarding. For everyone who resigns, you find someone who's been involved for decades."


There are no comments - be the first to comment