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Bid to cut School Board in Falls aired; Members criticize new colleague's plan

A proposal to reduce the city's School Board to five members was strongly criticized Thursday by several members of the nine-member board.

Carmalette Rotella, the board's vice president, said a smaller board would not provide any significant cost savings because all board members serve without pay.

"A smaller board concentrates decision-making into the hands of a few -- rather than making decisions that involve a greater variety of viewpoints," she said.

A smaller board would be able to control policy, Rotella said. "A superintendent would only have to convince three people to agree on a proposed course of action, rather than five. It gives the superintendent more control over the board, not less," she said.

Rotella, a former president of the Niagara Falls teachers union who retired after more than 30 years as a teacher and guidance counselor in the school system, said, "The overriding danger of downsizing is the potential lack of diversity that could result. Niagara Falls is a melting pot of various diverse groups. By reducing the board, representation is reduced, and various viewpoints are stifled."

Board President Russell J. Petrozzi said downsizing "is the wrong thing to do. Nine people together will usually make the right decision. I am upset by this proposal; it would destroy diversity on the board. I would like for us all to work together."

Board member Robert J. Kazeangin said it would be "unacceptable to do something this destructive" to the board.

A three-person majority could control a five-member board "just like three men in a room in Albany," he said, referring to the practice of the governor and the two leaders of the State Legislature meeting to control the state budget and other major issues.

Johnny G. Destino, the newest member of the board, said he was circulating a petition asking for a referendum on downsizing "because a number of citizens are interested in changing the way things work in Niagara Falls."

Destino said earlier that downsizing would save money, streamline the election process and make the board more responsive to the wishes of the voters.

He said the current nine-member board was established in 1951, when the city's population was more than 90,000 and growing. The city's current population is estimated at 51,295.

Board member James Cancemi said he was "insulted and troubled" by the fact that Destino did not consult the rest of the board members before he began circulating the petition for downsizing.

Board member Nick Vilardo said he felt "slighted" by not being consulted before the petition drive began.

Don King, the longest-serving member of the board with more than 30 years of service, also criticized the petition drive.

e-mail: rbaldwin@buffnews.com

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