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Buffalo School Board to scale back meetings

The Buffalo Board of Education has decided to cut its meeting schedule in half, a move aimed at allowing staff members more time to focus on academic programs and district operations.

The board, which signed off on the change at Wednesday's meeting, previously met four times a month - twice for official business and twice to discuss issues in committees. Now, the board will hold just one business meeting and one workshop session to discuss district issues.

The Buffalo school board is notorious for its lengthy and often contentious meetings.

The discussion Wednesday on the topic was no different, with some veteran members suggesting the newcomers did not want to put in the time to do the job.

"At the end of the day, there's work to be done," said board member Sharon Belton-Cottman, who opposed the change.

Superintendent Kriner Cash and some board members have been pushing to streamline their schedule from meeting every week to every other week, and eliminating the lengthy committee meetings that often lead to board members assigning district staff additional work. The lighter meeting schedule is typical in districts across the country, where school boards hold one meeting to conduct official business and another to discuss items they will eventually vote on.

"It increases the efficiency because we don't get worn out," Cash said. "We don't have to go to meetings to get ready for more meetings."

"This, frankly, is going to wear us out, burn us out," Cash added, referring to the weekly meeting schedule. "No one meets every week anymore."

Still, discussions about scaling back meetings have been met by criticism by the public and some board members.

Those critics have argued that going from two business meetings to one limits the public's opportunities to speak before the board. The board hears public comments during its business meetings, but not committees.

Some board members have argued that they, too, would like more time to adequately vet issues they will vote on.

Those criticisms continued Wednesday night, with some board members expressing concerns they would not have time to address the district's unique needs. Some also said it's important for board members to monitor the operations of the district.

"We have to watch closely," said board member Theresa Harris-Tigg. "We can't just assume whoever is there is going to do it."

"We still have separate and unequal schools," she added. "We have to watch it."

Other board members, however, argued that their time would be better spent in meetings with the communities and schools.

The change had the backing of the board's three newest board members - Hope Jay, Jennifer Mecozzi and Paulette Woods - who were part of the six-member block that approved the new schedule. Carl P. Paladino, Patti Pierce and Larry Quinn also voted in favor of the change.

Belton-Cottman, Harris-Tigg and President Barbara Nevergold opposed it.

Those behind the push say it’s not just the time spent in the boardroom that is a problem. District staff members end up spending additional time preparing materials requested by the board and answering follow up questions – time that could be spent on classroom initiatives.

Case in point: In response to a board request, Cash’s staff spent 12 hours coming up with an analysis of just how much time they spend on meeting-related matters.

That was a small portion of the total uncovered in the analysis, with the district estimating staff members spent more than 8,400 hours preparing for meetings during the first six months of last school year.

That translates to more than 1,000 work days, assuming a typical eight-hour day – enough to keep four full-time employees busy. And although many high-level district employees don’t earn overtime, the district’s analysis put a price tag of $584,171.34 on those hours.

"If it means our people can get to their daily duties and not have to spend time getting ready for meetings, that's fine," said Paladino.

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