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The School Board asks for a raise -- and other tales from the Common Council

Yesterday, during a joint meeting of the Common Council and the School Board, at large board member John Licata tackled a touchy subject.

Licata with mic"Asking for money is one of those taboo subjects," he said. "Culturally, it's difficult to turn to somebody and ask for a raise."

And then he proceeded to do just that.

Back in 1974, when the School Board became an elective office, the Council set the salary at $5,000, Licata said.

And for the last 38 years, the salary has remained the same.

"I think it's time the salary of the board of education be revisited by this council," Licata said. "We are often told, 'You're doing it for the children, and that's a noble cause, and that should be enough compensation for you.' I say because it is such a noble call, we should be compensated for the time and effort we put into it."

More than one council member seemed to be on board.

"I do agree with Mr. Licata," said Fillmore Council member David Franczyk.

Both he and Council President Rich Fontana seemed to recall the Council approving a raise -- up to $10,000 -- back in the late '90s, but there were differing recollections regarding why that never took effect.

By way of background, none of the nearly 700 suburban school boards in the state are paid, but board members in Rochester and Syracuse are paid. In Rochester, board members' salaries are set at a percentage of council members' salaries.

Right now, Rochester board members make $23,000; the president of the board makes $30,000. That district is about the same size as Buffalo. In Syracuse, which is about two-thirds the size of Buffalo, board members make $7,500, plus they are eligible for district-provided health benefits.

Licata says he thinks Buffalo board members should make $20,000. (Coincidentally, that's about what $5,000 in 1974 is equivalent to, in 2012 dollars, once you factor in inflation.)

Here are some of the other highlights from the joint council/board meeting yesterday (for more details, check out the archive of the live blog here):

- The board and the council agreed to form a joint committee to find ways to address the high student absenteeism in the city.

- The two bodies agreed to have buyers from both entities meet to find ways to save money through joint purchasing.

- Officials from the council as well as the board recalled days when the city had an AIM team, which paired police officers with attendance teachers. The team rounded up kids on the streets during the school day and brought them to school.

"AIM officers had cars," Fontana said. "They were essentially officers going out and bringing kids in."

There was general agreement that that was an effective strategy, which died when the city cut police officers.

- Officials from both bodies agreed that there should be a more concentrated effort to market former schools to potential developers. Right now, a number of them are sitting vacant in neighborhoods.

"I think there's an appetite for reuse of these schools," Ellicott Council member Darius Pridgen said. "I think both sides have to work aggressively to market these facilities and get them offline. Do we have meetings where we open these buildings up to developers?"

- Pridgen also suggested launching a noncriminal court to deal with parents of chronically absent students.

School Board member Florence Johnson suggested holding back a portion of a family's social services support until parents get their children on track. She said the district had done it before.

"As I recall, we had very good attendance at that time," she said. "The civil liberties union got involved, and it was rescinded."

- Some board members noted that the city has a surplus right now, and the board would like to get some of it. Johnson suggested that the council start by providing additional money for attendance. She suggested the city consider adding police officers to help with attendance.

"If there's a proposal that comes forward, we would consider it," Fontana said. "Your idea of funding it creatively is a good one."

- Mary Pasciak

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