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Residency requirement cripples Buffalo schools

I read in The News that many Buffalo schools are facing a teacher shortage in several key areas. As a teacher and someone who has served on interview committees, I know that the competition is fierce and that oftentimes hundreds of applications swamp local schools for even one position.

Teaching jobs will be increasingly tougher to get because many schools now have younger staffs in addition to our population losses and looming school closures. So why is Buffalo uniquely faced with this problem of a "teacher shortage"?

Everyone who works in education in this area -- including Buffalo school officials -- knows there is definitely no teacher shortage here; not even in "critical" areas such as math, science and special education. It also isn't due to district budgetary constraints or a lag in board approval for these positions.

Buffalo is in trouble because prospective teachers simply don't want to work in Buffalo if it means they also have to live in Buffalo. School officials must confront this reality if they hope to improve scores and draw better applicants, or in this case, "some" applicants.

Ironically, Buffalo is perhaps one of the most beautiful places to live in Western New York. How many of us have driven through the neighborhoods of Elmwood, Allentown, Nottingham, Bidwell Parkway and North Buffalo and not wished they were ours?

These places are located in relatively safe neighborhoods, with close access to parks and other recreational activities. Many homes in these areas have been owned by the same families for years, and many owners know and socialize with each other regularly.

However, most new, young teachers cannot afford homes in these areas, and even renting is expensive. This means new teachers have to look for homes in less desirable areas of the city, where home values are decreasing, street crime is more visible and violent, and insurance rates are higher.

Who wants to be forced to buy a home where you know the value will be steadily decreasing, and in a neighborhood where you wouldn't want your own children to play outside?

On top of that, you'd have to send your children to schools that are among the lowest rated in New York State in terms of standardized test scores. And Buffalo school officials have the nerve and arrogance to deny that the residency requirement is what is partially keeping Buffalo schools down.

Those School Board members who are vehemently opposed to rescinding the residency requirement falsely claim that in doing so, they will ensure that "a better sense of community will result from those who both live and work here." This logic is as misleading as it is ridiculous. The real reason is because they don't want teachers to be drawing salaries from Buffalo's property tax dollars, and then living in places like Amherst or Clarence where they will be paying into those school systems; it's all about negative taxation redistribution.

Ordering new hires to reside in Buffalo is no draw for those who are among the best candidates in their field of educational discipline. Unfortunately, Buffalo schools will continue performing at the bottom, and getting the best of the worst applicants -- or no applicants at all -- if the board doesn't eliminate its crippling residency requirement.

Joseph P. Cronin, of Snyder, has been a social studies teacher at Tonawanda High School since 2003.

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