The Buffalo Board of Education addressed a packed agenda at its last regular meeting of the school year on Wednesday.
In three closely-watched decisions, board members voted to uphold an 18-month ban on Buffalo Common Councilmember Ulysees Wingo from all district property and school events, extend Superintendent Kriner Cash’s contract to 2021 and adopt a 43-week school calendar.
Councilmember Wingo brought a loaded handgun into Riverside High School on May 14. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn did not bring any charges against Wingo for the incident, but several school board members proposed an 18-month ban for the councilman as punishment for violating both school board policy and New York State law. That resolution passed after much debate Wednesday evening with a vote of six to three.
“We did not come to this decision lightly,” said Board President Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold. “We weighed all of the consequences of our decision, but in the end we thought about children. That’s what we thought about – the safety of our children in the schools.”
Several board members emphasized that the ban was not intended as a personal rebuke of Wingo, but that it was necessary to set an example for students and the wider community.
Much of the debate concerned the fact that Wingo’s son is about to graduate high school and imposing a ban would prevent him from attending that ceremony. But Ferry District Board Member Sharon Belton-Cottman said Wingo should use this as a teachable moment.
“Tell your child that 'Yes, I made a mistake, and as a result of me making a mistake, it was a violation of the law, and as a result of violating the law there are consequences that we have to now deal with,’” she said. “That is the best lesson you can give a young man today.”
After completing Superintendent Cash’s annual performance review this week, the board also voted unanimously to extend his contract through Aug. 23, 2021. The contract had been set to expire one year earlier, in 2020. Cash received his highest rating yet this year – 3.5 out of a possible 4 – since taking the helm of Buffalo’s public schools.
Board members heaped praise on Cash throughout the meeting.
“It has been a pleasure to work with you, to learn from you,” said outgoing East District Board Member Dr. Theresa Harris-Tigg. “I thank you for being so open and sharing your skill, your knowledge, your talent. You’re just amazing.”
And Cash returned the love.
“Buffalo has surprised me,” he said. “I have fallen in love with Buffalo.”
Another key takeaway from Wednesday’s meeting, and one of great concern for students and parents worried about their February break, is the board’s acceptance of a 43-week calendar year supported by the Buffalo Teachers Federation. The first day of classes of the 2019-2020 academic year will be Sept. 6, and students will keep their February vacation.