Much Desired State Aid Comes With Strings Attached Via Complex Array of Albany Mandates and Regulations, Say First-Time School Board Members
Greater Western New York, August 3, 2022 – The fourth regional Greater Western New York Town Hall meetings proved to be the most vibrant in the series according to attendees. Featured guests included three newly elected school board members: Mark Kless, (Pioneer District School Board in Cattaraugus County); Jim Michalek, (Iroquois District School Board in Erie County); and, Mark Buonaugurio, (Greece District School Board in Monroe County). In addition, attendees included other newly elected School board members from other districts in the 17-county region.
While each district had its own unique story, the theme of the evening emerged quickly during the opening keynotes.
Kless said he decided to run because “It felt like we were being silenced. We moved our board meetings to Zoom. We weren’t allowed to meet in public. I had voiced my opinion about this and it was kind of a ‘put up or shut up’ kind of thing.”
Michalek said, “I believe that governance or the consent to govern comes from the people, and I believe that is very much a two-way communication. It’s always important that we are there, open to, listen to, discuss, and talk to the people we represent because our function to represent them to represent their views.”
Buonaugurio cited the impetus behind his decision to run. “We started attending school board meetings regularly and expressing displeasure over the fact that our school communities were just intentionally divided,” he says. “We were making distinctions between kids’ races, genders, whatever, and rather than pulling our schools together and being a community, we were just creating a lot of animosity.”
During the panel discussion that followed the keynotes, it became apparent this issue isn’t local, but what’s being forced on the local school districts.
“The Community was fed up with what was going on with Covid, what was going on with gender identity, things that are going on and basically coming down from Albany more than anything, not necessarily things that have been pushed by our school administration or our school board,” said Kless. “The things they were coming down from Albany were not really, really high on the priority of our community.”
As with many things, the root of all this can be found in the adage “follow the money.”
“A lot of the issues have been forced on us from Albany,” says Buonaugurio. “You know much of this is driven by the fact that most school boards and most school districts accept State aid and that aid comes with strings attached. In the process, we lose our autonomy. This was one of our main arguments in our campaign. The issues were being taken away from us and being directed by the governor and agencies and we wanted them back.”
Despite the uphill battle for underrepresented populations like the Greater Western New York Region, there remains hope that a concerted effort can make a significant difference.
“There are ways to bring up support to change the State,” says Michalek. “If you get enough people advocating and pushing for something in the same direction, the State can respond. It’s just how do you create those groups and sustain them and sustain the efforts so they’re not just on certain hot button issues.”
The Greater Western New York (Virtual) Town Hall Meeting was held on Wednesday August 3rd from 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM. Chris Carosa, publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, hosted the meeting that was co-sponsored by nearly a dozen members of the Western New York District of the New York Press Association, including the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, the Akron Bugle, the Alfred Sun, The Batavian, Neighbor-to-Neighbor newspapers (including the Arcade Herald, the East Aurora Advertiser, the Springville Journal, Warsaw’s Country Courier, and the Franklinville Mercury-Gazette), and the Johnson Newspaper Corp’s western New York papers (The Daily News and the Livingston County News) and Niagara Frontier Publications (Island Dispatch, Niagara County Tribune Sentinel).