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Thoughts about what it takes to serve from one who has

There aren't too many qualifications to run for School Board: You need to be at least 18, able to read and write, and live in the district.

Patience, a sense of humor, a willingness to work long hours for no pay and the knowledge that you can't please everyone are helpful, too.

Just ask the area's longest-serving school board member, Stanley Figiel is stepping down this year after serving 39 years on the Frontier Central School Board.

"You need to have a deep commitment and care about public education," he said. "It should be the No. 1 priority of a school board member: Help all students reach full potential."

When he first ran in 1973, he was concerned that the district's outdated facilities were not meeting the needs of students, including his own two children.

"I think most of the people have children in school. They want success for their children, so they get involved," he said.

Figiel, 76, was a career counselor at Bethlehem Steel Corp. and executive director of Woodlawn Revitalization Corp. He works part time for the Town of Hamburg and has been a member of Big Tree Volunteer Fire Company 44 years.

He said he's sorry he did not pursue his dream to become a teacher. But when he was looking at going to college, teachers made $5,000, and he could make $12,000 at the steel mill. It wasn't a difficult decision for a family man to make.

He stops into seminars the Erie County School Boards Association holds for new board members. One piece of advice is about the issues they run on, said Jane Burzynski, executive director of the association: If you are a single-issue candidate it's going to be a tough road, because there is no single issue.

The first time Figiel was elected president, he wasn't even at the meeting. The board at that time was split, and his name was offered as the compromise candidate after 137 ballots. He was elected on the 138th ballot and ended up serving 12 consecutive years.

During that time, he missed a lot of concerts and sporting events with his children because he was at board meetings, and he said a supportive family is important for a board member.

The big-time commitment hasn't changed, but some things have. Technology was discussed in the 1970s and 1980s, but today it's integrated into classrooms and homes. Parents also are worried about safety in schools.

"I think parents need to know their children are safe. We need to make sure we are providing a safe environment in this day and age," Figiel said.

There are more and more demands for money, and he said he always tried to strike a balance between the needs of students and the needs of the taxpayers.

He said board members should respect, support and trust one another. But that doesn't mean you can't disagree, he said.

"We live in a democratic society, and I believe everybody has a right to their opinions," he said.

But he doesn't like surprises.

"If you have an issue, you let the superintendent know, and the board president," he said. "I think open and frank discussion is critical," he added.

Figiel said he still has passion for the job, and his commitment has not diminished with age.

"I believe you can make a difference in the lives of children," he said.