Sharon Belton Cottman wants the Buffalo school district to increase its graduation rate – and she thinks the way to do that is through changing the district’s approach to student discipline.
The board recently adopted a new code of conduct, which seeks to address root problems causing students to misbehave, rather than punish them. One of the goals is to reduce out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions.
“In order for students to receive an education, first they must be in school,” she said. “The district strategic plan now includes the concern for the total child.”
Cottman has represented the Ferry District for two years, since she was appointed to fill a vacancy. She is the only candidate on the ballot, although recently talk emerged of a possible write-in challenge.
During her time on the board, Cottman has emerged as the most outspoken board member, routinely peppering both administrators and fellow board members with questions.
“I have a true disdain for lack of efficiency and waste,” she said. “Because I am an analytical and critical thinker, I expect results and transparency. Each department is required to own their data, and it is expected that they present explanations and work on solutions.”
She attended Buffalo Public Schools, graduating from East High School. She attended Canisius College and earned a bachelor’s degree from Medaille College.
Cottman, 57, is a home mortgage consultant with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. She has held various positions with local banks and insurance companies.
“I bring a wealth of insurance, banking and financial experience to the table,” she said.
Her two children, who are now grown, attended public schools in Buffalo: Campus West, Olmsted and Seneca Vocational High School.
During her past two years on the board, her most significant accomplishment was the role she played in hiring Pamela C. Brown as superintendent, she said. The district is in need of “major revamping” and Brown is the right person for the job, Cottman said.
“Under Dr. Brown’s leadership, once all team players are on point, we will be able to see much tremendous progress,” she said.
Like many other incumbents, Cottman also takes some of the credit for persuading Say Yes to Education to partner with Buffalo and offer a tuition guarantee for certain colleges to students graduating from city high schools.
While she has been on the board, Cottman has frequently been critical of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, with many of her criticisms related to various benefits teachers receive under their contract and the resulting costs to the district.
She has, however, been endorsed by New York State United Teachers, which has sent letters to thousands of its members encouraging them to vote for her and other union-backed candidates.
The statewide union and some of its affiliated groups sent people door-to-door to collect signatures to secure her place on the ballot.
Cottman opposes any growth in the number of local charter schools.
She believes the district should maintain its existing school choice system of student placement, rather than reinstate neighborhood schools.
She does not think city taxpayers should contribute more money to the district, she said.
One of the rare issues on which Cottman does not have a clearly defined position is teacher residency. The board voted to rescind the residency requirement a few months before she was appointed.
While she would like to see the community grow, she said, she is “not inclined to vote for a policy that will force people out of their neighborhoods.”
She would like to survey parents in the district to see how the majority feels about teacher residency. She would vote according to the parents’ wishes, she said.
“I support quality teachers and building the City of Buffalo,” Cottman said. “However, the bigger issues are the educators that are selected to be our teachers. We need excellent educators with training in diversity. We need to recruit from all over America to bring the best, not just from the suburbs of Buffalo, and we need more men.”