After members of the largest suburban district in Western New York raised concerns in November about continuing membership in the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), the Williamsville Central School Board got a visit Tuesday night from the association's executive director.
It's not unusual for school board members to question why they pay to belong to organizations like NYSSBA. Williamsville's NYSSBA dues are $12,259 this year.
But in Williamsville's case, some board members seemed more concerned about the agenda of the association.
School Board Member Mark Mecca had questioned the district's membership in the group last year, saying he didn't like many of its legislative priorities, and that they are not in agreement with his philosophy of an educational system.
"My main opposition is colored by my profession to some degree, as I'm a professional educator in a public school district in New York State," Mecca said Tuesday. "Is this an organization we want to support if they are actively undermining the protections that teachers have? We in this district hold our teachers in very high regard."
NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said NYSSBA often works with the teachers union on issues. The group did not take a position on one controversial topic, the nomination of Betsy Devos for education secretary, because it came up between its annual meeting and regular board meetings, he said. It did poll its members, and 86 percent of the 400 who responded said they don't think Devos is qualified, and they listed questions for her in confirmation hearings that were sent on to senators, he said.
"I represent your positions as an elected official," he told Williamsville School Board members.
Board Member Teresa Anne Leatherbarrow said the board belongs to the Erie County Association of School Boards, which acts as its advocate on state issues.
"In a way, I feel like we're paying twice," said Leatherbarrow, who also said she wanted more time to go over the information Kremer provided.
Board Member Shawn P. Lemay said the state group has more lobbying efforts than the county organization, and if large districts like Williamsville drop out, others could too, which would weaken the statewide efforts.
Kremer said 93 percent of the school boards in the state belong to NYSSBA, and 53 percent of school board members are educators, former educators or related to educators. NYSSBA has 60 employees and five lobbyists.
The board spent nearly an hour listening to Kremer and discussing the issue.
In the end, members voted 7-1 in favor of paying the dues for this year. Leatherbarrow voted no, and President Toni L. Vazquez abstained.