|Date:||June 10, 2022|
By Nina Raj and Sydney Browne|
Each week, PPG summarizes important takeaways from the major Buffalo Common Council meetings. We also include information from Council meetings related to our Community Agenda items
This week’s summary focuses on the Education Committee and Legislation Committee meetings. The Education Committee focuses on issues regarding teachers, schools, school property, training, and the Board of Education. The Legislation Committee focuses on local laws, ordinances, and general legislation—except for civil matters.
During the Education Committee meeting, Dr. Tonja Williams, Interim Superintendent of the Buffalo City School District, spoke to the Council regarding the district's plans to foster educational excellence in students throughout the summer. Interim Superintendent Williams acknowledged that students may have experienced learning loss over the past two years due to remote instruction during the pandemic. However, she stated that schools intend to focus on academic acceleration and enrichment goals by expanding its summer programs this year. These programs include Se Levanta, which teaches K-3 children about Latinx culture, and Mural Mania, where learning takes place through drawing, designing, painting, and ultimately creating a mural to be unveiled at the end of the camp session.
In light of the recent tragedies of mass shootings in both Buffalo and Uvalde, Interim Superintendent Williams also announced the district's modified visitor protocol to ensure the safety and security of students and staff. The revised structure requires all visitors to contact schools and make an appointment before entering the building—unless the administration reaches out to them first due to an emergency. They can only enter through the designated visitor entrances, equipped with cameras and buzzers where visitors have to identify themselves and their child(ren). After this, Dr. Williams said schools would likely undergo a search and security process with school security before being escorted to the main office to sign in and show proof of ID. Though Interim Superintendent Williams expressed wishes that these protocols could be less strict, she stated that the safety of students was the top priority for Buffalo schools at this time. She also reported that in almost all cases, visitors have complied with the new security measures.
Finally, Interim Superintendent Williams told Common Council schools are proactively working to prevent the possibility of a bus driver shortage again next year. The district is currently partnering with First Student to raise wages for drivers, adding sign-on bonuses, and looking to implement pilot programs to reimburse parents for transporting their children to school. Dr. Williams identified the root of the bus driver shortage as difficulty controlling so many children at once. She cited an increase in bus aides and clear communication between principals and students regarding the school's expectations for behavior as practical measures to improve driver job quality.
Council President Pridgen and Majority Leader Rivera both conveyed a desire to formally draft a statement to the school board to encourage the official appointment of a new superintendent for the Buffalo City School District by fall. They agreed the school board should make this administrative decision before the beginning of the new school year to maintain student education stability.
Beverly Robinson-Smith, President and Owner of the youth empowerment company Shifting Gears Unlimited, presented the need to teach students of Buffalo schools about financial literacy, with skills ranging from budgeting a paycheck to creating a savings plan to accumulating generational wealth. Committee Chair Bollman and Council Member Wyatt expressed their support, highlighting the opportunity for children studying finance to inspire parents to increase their financial literacy.
All committee members were in attendance during this week's Legislation Committee meeting. Of the 78 total items on the agenda, five were open for a public hearing. The Council tabled the remainder for the next committee meeting.
Alice Gordon, a Schenne and Associates Project Manager, was in attendance to represent the Central Park Jame Masjid. Gordon sought a temporary additional prayer room for the growing congregation of the mosque. The space will be a one-story building constructed at 99 Rodney Avenue for religious and assembly purposes. There are plans to develop a 6,000-square-foot mosque at 2270 Fillmore Avenue. Council Member Wingo spoke in support of the project, echoing favor expressed by mosque-goers and street residents. The committee unanimously approved the item.
Mark Romanowski attended the committee meeting on behalf of APL Property Group developer Anthony LaRusso. He submitted a request to rezone 127 Clayton from N-430 single-family residential and D-IL Light Industrial to D-R District Residential. APL intends to construct a three-story multi-family residential complex with 66 total units. Romanowski explained how the company plans for young professionals and senior citizens looking to downsize their residences to use the buildings. He also addressed concerns neighborhood residents expressed about the project. Romanowski mentioned the APL contact with Buffalo Sewer Authority and Water Board to ensure adequate water volume and supply to the neighborhood. A parking study and traffic study submission found no significant adverse effect on the neighborhood.
Despite this, several community members were present to oppose the project. Council Member Glombeck hosted a community information session on June 6, where residents shared their concerns regarding the potential project. Primary complaints included density, traffic impacts, stormwater, and sanitation. Resident Donna Gerst voiced her worries about neighborhood safety. She described how children often play in the same area where residents would exit the complex. Gerst concluded her time by submitting a petition against the complex. Resident John Baker reiterated Gerst's safety concerns and highlighted the fragility of the neighborhood's sewer and water system by offering a past claim against the city for a sewer blockage. Resident Jeremy Klein virtually spoke on privacy issues, expressing discomfort at the complex's size and tenants' ability to stare into backyards. Resident Jim Rozanski urged the Legislation Committee to focus on the materials directly relevant to the zoning map request. Council Member Feroleto muted him over Zoom after speaking longer than the allotted three minutes.
Council Member Golombek asked to speak last, discussing the community meeting he hosted with 75 attendees. He explained how the neighborhood was overwhelmingly opposed to a project of this density and scope. A working committee assembled at the end of the meeting with the intent of finding a compromise. However, because of technical issues in the Legislation Committee and a lack of information, the Council couldn't vote on the issue and tabled the item later.
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