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A heated debate over pre-K among West Seneca School Board members

West Seneca School Board members argued into near chaos Monday night.

What set them off: how and where to hold its universal prekindergarten program.

Superintendent Mark Crawford finally ended the debate, and the meeting, when he stood up and said quietly:

"We've had enough. There's a lot of upset in the room. We can crack an egg another day. I would like us just to go home tonight."

There had been applause earlier in the meeting room, during the presentation on the proposed budget and improved financial condition of the district.

But the division on the board surfaced as members debated the universal prekindergarten program. Barbs were thrown after a board member proposed a meeting in March to talk about finding an interim superintendent. And the meeting seemed to break down when board members questioned who authorized a robo call to parents that disavowed a union telephone poll. Meanwhile, some staff members chastised the board, one saying, "get your act together."

As the board argued about the robo call and another staff member was waiting to speak, Crawford stood up.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," he said, to a few chuckles, "We do have a wonderful district. We don't need to threaten the harmony that we have enjoyed."

Crawford said there are reasons for grievance.

"I get it, and share them, too," he said. "I ask everyone to put it on hold for a while."

The plea for calm worked, and the meeting quietly adjourned.

The room was filled with more than 100 teachers and staff members, many wearing navy blue T-shirts with CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association) or WSTA (West Seneca Teachers Association) emblems. On the back were messages: "Our schools work because we work" and "#Ourschools."

They cheered a proposal by Board Member Janice E. Dalbo, who suggested that 75 percent of openings in the pre-K program be in district facilities and the rest in private centers.  She said she wants to preserve the district program, "because I think we do a wonderful job." Her proposal was defeated, 4-3, with Board Members Carol A. Jarczyk and Mary J. Busse voting with her.

Board Member Lauren Nicholas proposed a different mix: 72 students at a district program at either Allendale Elementary or the former Potters Road Elementary school, 72 students at Northwood Elementary, and the rest at programs at Care-a-Lot Childcare Center, EduKids, Page 1 Preschool and Great Expectations Child Care. She said parents would be able to ask for their top three preferences, and the district would try to accommodate them.

"This is a working class community. These people work," she said, adding that working families deserve increased geographic access that additional locations will provide.

Her proposal was approved by an identical 4-3 vote, with Board Member Edmund Bedient, Vice President Gwen Philips and President Kate Newton voting with Nicholas.

The current program stipulates 78 percent are educated in district facilities and 22 percent are at an outside program, EduKids, Newton said, but she said 151 are in district programs, and 49 are at EduKids.

Several board members said they were not informed that the School Board was going to put out a statement to the public that a poll in the district was not conducted by the board. Newton said she tried to contact board members, but could not reach two of them.

Board members did agree to meet March 22 to discuss finding an interim superintendent to replace Crawford, who will retire April 29. Inquiries are being accepted until March 17, Newton said, and the board's search consultant cannot meet with them until April. The board agreed to meet with the consultant April 6. It is scheduled to interview candidates April 17, Newton said.


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