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After heated meeting, Buffalo School Board postpones proposed salary increases for top staff

Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash (left) and School Board President Lou Petrucci sitting at a table.
Mike Desmond
Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash (left) and School Board President Lou Petrucci approve of raises for top staff.

The Buffalo School Board returned to the old days Wednesday evening, with shouting and screaming between board members and people in the audience, and Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash openly disagreeing with a board member.

At issue was the superintendent's plan for significant reorganization in the upper echelons of his administration and major pay raises for people even board members agreed are overworked and often performing functions well outside of their job in very difficult times.

Even so, some board members didn't like the plan only being announced last week and being asked to approve the pay hikes Wednesday.

Pointing up to the array of administrators sitting together at Waterfront School, Cash said those administrators have better-paid opportunities in other districts.

"In a sophisticated school district, the board yields not on the cost, not on something that is political. They never have that intention. You have to invest in top staff in order to keep a district moving and performing for years and years to come. This Cabinet staff to my right is now the future of Buffalo."

Buffalo Public Schools staff listen to the debate about raises for them.
Mike Desmond
Buffalo Public Schools staff listen to the debate about raises for them.

Board Member Larry Scott said there there have to be raises for staffers working above their pay grade.

"We have Cabinet staff right now that are in positions, in acting positions, doing responsibilities that haven't been approved, that technically they are not compensated for."

However, Board Member Paulette Woods said the district can't afford the raises and argued the percentage of the increases is far higher than the superintendent said.

Former Board President Sharon Belton-Cottman said proposed raises would amount to downstate salaries.

"This is Western New York. This is not the Big Five. It's not fair to look at Yonkers. We need to look at Yonkers. We need to look at the success of Hispanic population in Yonkers, African Americans success in Yonkers. We start comparing salaries. We need to understand this is Western New York," Belton-Cottman said.

After long debate, the board agreed to hold a special meeting on the raises Jan. 5. The board later went into executive session to discuss past employment of an employee, who turned out to be Cash. Cash responded by saying the board would hear from his lawyers.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.