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New Buffalo School Board meets, same old tensions flare

Given the contentious history of the Buffalo Board of Education, it was a good bet there would be some rocky times ahead for the brand new board that took over in July.

It didn't take long for that to be prove to be true, and tension behind the scenes publicly bubbled over in the board room at City Hall on Wednesday.

The fallout began in August when the nine-member board – which includes four new members –  approved pay raises for top administrators. The lone no vote came from Board President Sharon Belton-Cottman, whose line of questioning turned into a heated exchange, particularly between Cottman and North District Board Member Hope Jay.

Cottman later appeared on a local radio show hosted by Buffalo parents, where she was asked about the raises. Cottman – never one to mince words – again expressed her views that the board needs to ask questions and not be a rubber stamp. Some of her board colleagues didn’t take kindly to that.

Behind the scenes, it led to private discussions among her fellow board members, who circulated an email and, eventually, called a special meeting Wednesday, where they aired their dirty laundry.

“We are one entity,” said Kathy Evans-Brown, who represents the East District, “and no one should be running around here like they’re a solo act or don’t have the support of each other.”

Central District Board Member Paulette Woods said Cottman had the right to express her views.

Board Members Lou Petrucci, Ann Rivera, Jennifer Mecozzi and Jay argued that it’s not about differing opinions but how board members conduct themselves and represent the School Board to the public.

At-Large Board Member Larry Scott asked Cottman, as board president, if she would conduct herself differently next time.

“I see nothing wrong with the way I conducted myself,” Cottman said.

At-Large Board Member Terrance Heard told his colleagues that this was all “foolishness,” and said he didn’t seek the board position to babysit or bicker.

That prompted applause from some members of the public watching the scene unfold.

Samuel L. Radford III, the longtime parent advocate who hosted the radio show Cottman appeared on, saw the meeting as an attempt by a young board to be transparent –  but felt it backfired.

"People are new. There are going to be growing pains," Radford said. "A more mature board would not have a special meeting to discuss this item."

The board ended up hashing it out for more than an hour, before agreeing to turn the page.

They also agreed to take part in sensitivity training.

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