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Turning gray comes with the territory

My older brother seems to have aged quickly in the last couple of years. I hadn't really given it much thought until I saw him at the end of last week, when it suddenly occurred to me why: In 2009, he became a school board member.

That's enough to make anyone's hair turn gray.

Serving on a school board is becoming about as pleasant as emptying a diaper pail. Maybe you noticed that when you were deciding whether to vote yes or no on the school budget, you didn't have to spend even a second considering whom to elect to the board because you probably had no choice:

Some of the largest and most affluent districts in Erie County -- including Williamsville, Orchard Park, Frontier and Lancaster -- had the same number of candidates as available board seats.

Akron had two seats available, and only one person stepped forward and volunteered to take it.

Seven of the 10 districts in Niagara County featured uncontested school board elections.

Cheektowaga has four school districts located within the town borders, a point that continually gets raised by people who believe in district consolidation, yet there were no contested elections for a school board.

But why would anyone want this unpaid, time-consuming, stressful, thankless job?

Consider what school boards are asked to do now as a matter of course: reconfigure or close schools; eliminate classes and programs; charge for sports and activities that used to be covered by property taxes; increase class sizes; and, maybe worst of all, fire people.

And, by the way, don't even think about raising taxes beyond what the state tells you, or there's a good chance the public will reject the budget and force you to come up with one that does all of the above and then some.

"There are a lot of challenges going on in public education right now, not just in New York State, but across the nation," said Williamsville School Superintendent Scott Martzloff. "Certainly the financial hardships all districts are facing play into it."

Williamsville, always in the conversation about the best districts in New York, almost did not have enough candidates to run for the three seats it had available. But that's really not surprising. Martzloff noted that school board members at one time could point with pride to their accomplishments while in office, to improving the education of students in their community. And now?

"You're looking at taking something away from your neighbors and community members," Martzloff said.

Donald Ogilvie, superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES, said board members who seek the position with the idea that they can do something for their community find their hands tied by countless mandates from the state and federal governments "and a host of other entities that don't hesitate to influence what goes on in our classrooms."

"Being a member of the governance body of a local school district is a misnomer," Ogilvie said in an email.

Plus, unlike other elected officials who can count on support from their political party, school board members sit on a lonely island.

"I believe it is most likely the case," Ogilvie said, "that school board members, should they ever be thanked for the service they provide during these unprecedented difficult times, will hear something like this: 'I could never do what you do. Why would you even think about serving?' "

Maybe they like how they look with gray hair?