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Public to comment on possible modifications to Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board

Proposals to expand the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board by two seats, lengthen its terms of office and add a nonvoting student member will be opened to public comment next month.

The board agreed Tuesday night to hold a public hearing on the proposals during its regular meeting Oct. 13 in Hoover Elementary School.

Trustee Bob Dana presented data showing that of 25 suburban school districts surveyed by the Erie County Association of School Boards, only three districts, including Ken-Ton, have five-member boards. The other two – Cleveland Hill and Maryvale – have much smaller populations and enrollments. All other districts have seven-member boards except one, Williamsville, whose board has nine members.

Dana said the trend is to “upsize” boards, rather than downsize, noting that each School Board member serves on at least three committees and does not receive any compensation. “An additional two can help share the workload,” Dana said. “I think it’s definitely worth looking at.”

The board’s other four trustees agreed. Trustee Christopher E. Pashler said he hoped that adding members would help bring diversity to the board. The current board is all white, and all but one of its members are male.

Trustees were also supportive of adding a student ex officio member who would not vote, attend executive sessions or have access to confidential information but would be asked for input and be free to offer input. Five districts – Hamburg, Lake Shore, North Collins, Sweet Home and West Seneca – have student members of their boards.

Trustee Todd J. Potter Jr. said he would have liked to see a student member’s insight during the recent consolidation and reorganization process that culminated with a decision last year to close three schools.

Trustees were less enthusiastic about lengthening the term of board members. Eight of 25 local school districts have five-year terms. The rest, including Ken-Ton, have three-year terms.

Dana contended that five-year terms would offer more continuity and less disruption for the board. Pashler noted that there has been frequent turnover on the board lately but said he worried that fatigue could set in over a five-year term. Superintendent Dawn F. Mirand said that some districts have difficulty finding candidates willing to take on a five-year commitment.

If the proposals are brought before voters in a May referendum, the student member could join the board in September, while the additional two board members would be elected in May 2017, Mirand said.