SANBORN – The complaint of a volunteer who said his efforts were stopped by a union action prompted comments from two Niagara Wheatfield School Board members Wednesday.
Mike Murawski, a frequent participant in school district activities and former board member, told the board that his wife, who works as a teacher’s aide at Colonial Village Elementary School, had been pulled out of the classroom at the beginning of the school year and assigned to watch the front door. Murawski said that instead of working with at-risk children, his wife now had to let visitors in and direct them.
While he was off from work, Murawski offered his services to the school, and for about 10 days, he sat at the door for two hours a day. He said he would have been at home “sitting on the couch, eating potato chips and bon-bons anyway.”
“I’m embarrassed to say the [school-related personnel] union grieved it,” Murawski said. As a result, he was sent home.
In view of the financial difficulties the district is facing, he said, “people need to think differently.” He estimated the district is up against a $1.8 million shortfall for next year and to file a grievance against a community volunteer is “selfish.”
“It really makes me wonder when people will see what kind of position this district is in,” Murawski said. “If people are going to complain about a volunteer, I feel sorry for the district.”
The first to address his remarks was new School Board member Richard Sirianni, who has been a union official for more than 25 years. Sirianni told Murawski that he “can’t take it personally.” He said the sole purpose of a union is to increase the salary and benefits of its members and to increase membership.
Sirianni said none of the buildings’ principals would want replacements to come in and perform the duties of any of the 40 teachers who were laid off, and he said if the position had to be filled, the district should “bring an SRP back if needed for two hours.”
Board member Chris Peters said the district needed to welcome volunteers in an era of fiscal crisis.
“People have to start thinking with their brains and not how it affects them,” Peters said. “We wish we could have kept every person, but that’s not realistic.”
No union representative addressed the board on the issue.
In another matter, interim School Superintendent James Knowles announced that the district has been approved for a federal grant to fund counseling at the elementary level. The district must submit applications to receive the three-year grant, which would amount to about $300,000 annually, he said.
The board also approved a number of late transportation requests to take students to private schools, but board President Steve Sabo said he would like to discuss setting a deadline. The board normally approves such requests throughout the year, as it is required to provide transportation to all students.
Sabo said he wanted the board to investigate the policies of other districts to talk about establishing a cut-off date for the requests.