The Buffalo School Board Thursday night voted for experience in filling a vacant Park District seat, appointing former Board President Lou Petrucci.
The board came out of a closed-door session to choose Petrucci for the seat vacated by Catherine Flanagan-Priore, who was appointed after Carl Paladino was removed by State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. The former president was the last of seven candidates to be interviewed by the board over two days, with each interview using a standard list of questions followed by an executive session.
Petrucci told the board he did not like the system of suspending kids out of school.
"It's all about educating kids. The one thing when we brought back the teacher evaluation system, we're going to evaluate for kids that never attend, on the seats, perhaps all the time, and they're holding us," Petrucci said. "We need to have kids learning. They're not going to be learning when they're suspended. They're not learning when we don't get them their educational package for two or three days. They're just not learning."
Board Member Patty Pierce said she favored Petrucci because of his position on out-of-school suspensions, a serious problem in city schools.
"I don't think kids should be taken out of school for bad behavior. However, I think bad behavior has to be recognized and has to be dealt with," Pierce said, "but we have to find a way to punish them in a more constructive manner - and by punish, I mean making them accountable for the bad behavior, not staying home, falling more behind on your grades."
Pierce said her South Buffalo neighbor's experience also means the board will have a chance to fulfill some of its priorities, because Petrucci will not have a learning curve in the new academic year.
Petrucci is Assistant Director for the City of Buffalo's Department of Permit and Inspection Services. He is also a City Honors graduate, who said he has problems with how the school operates today and questions some admission policies. City Honors admissions are a perennial sore point with the board because minority numbers in the student body are so far below minority numbers in the entire city school population. Petrucci also has been very active in parochial schools.
The final decision was thrashed out behind closed doors before an open vote. Executive Affairs Vice President Sharon Belton Cottman ran the process, saying a big reason was Petrucci saying he was not sure he will run next year.
"That's very important. Many of the other candidates said that they would run. However, his answer was particularly interesting to me because he said it was too early," Belton Cottman said. "But, in essence, I thought that meant he may not run. So I thought that was a good thing for the South district if he decides to run. It's a good thing if he decides not to, but at the end of the day, the South district needs to make their own choice."
All nine board seats are on the ballot next year, although it is not clear if that vote will be in May or November. When the board meets on Wednesday, members will swear in its newest member.