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Frontier district also to vote on board downsizing May 15

The budget and election of two School Board members aren't the only major items facing Frontier School District voters May 15.

Residents also will decide whether the nine-member board should be downsized, as well as whether a student should sit on the board in a nonvoting capacity.

Frontier residents are being asked whether the board -- one of just two large suburban districts in Erie County with nine members -- should downsize to seven members, effective July 2013. Frontier is joined only by Williamsville schools in having nine-member boards.

And Frontier isn't the only district whose board could shrink in size. Voters in the Holland School District will have the opportunity to reduce their board from seven to five members.

The 224-signature petition calling for the downsizing was submitted in March by retired Frontier teacher Dennis Bailey. It has sparked debate that heightened when a board member chastised two others, Larry Albert and Jack Chiappone -- both of whom typically vote in the minority bloc on the board, along with Lynn Burke -- for signing the petition. Albert and Chiappone were not identified publicly, but after being contacted by The News, both verified they had signed the petition.

Board member Martin Lalka called on the "two sitting board members" who signed the petition to resign. In turn, Albert and Chiappone on Friday defended the public's right to choose whether the board is downsized and instead found fault with Lalka's criticism.

Bailey, who critics privately say is a disgruntled former employee, described the board as incohesive and split.

"Several members of the board are more interested in micro-managing the central administration than they are in student success or taxpayer concerns," Bailey said. " It is our hope that with some new blood on the board and with fewer members, we can have a group that can agree and will focus on educating our children and not on micromanaging the central administration."

Board member Nancy Wood, who has served for 29 years, said it has only been recently that the board has not been getting along. "People come on the board and want to change everything and blame everybody and micromanage," she said. "We're one of the largest districts in Western New York. That's why we have a large board. There's always some people trying to throw a wrench into things."

At the same time, voters will have a say in whether a high school student should be appointed to serve on the board as a nonvoting member. Senior Davis Podkulski had lobbied the board for months to appoint a student representative, but when that effort failed, a petition was submitted to the board.

The board will vote Tuesday to place both initiatives on the ballot as separate propositions, since both petitions contained enough legal signatures following review by district legal counsel.

If voters approve downsizing the board, seats presently held by Wood and board member Jeremey Rosen would expire in July 2013. If the public approves having a student representative on the board, an appointment would occur this July.

Board Vice President Stanley Figiel said the downsizing issue boils down to one of control. "Without a doubt, by reducing the board down to seven members, you only need four for a majority to choose a superintendent, to approve a $72 million budget ," Figiel said. "In my opinion, this is an issue about control."

"And you can't say the issue is about money, because we're volunteer. Telling people you'll save money is not true," he said.

Nominating petitions for new board terms must be turned in to the district by April 16.

"I support the people's right to choose," Albert said of the downsizing. "I was not elected to a position of omnipotency. I was elected to serve the people. I'm not saying I support [the downsizing]. I support their right to make that choice."

Figiel said he cannot understand why the downsizing issue was not brought up for board discussion before a petition forced the matter. "If anybody had a problem about the size of the board, why wasn't this first discussed at the board level, as a matter of discussion? That bothers me," he said.