The Buffalo Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to delay a major merger of its football program until at least 2014-15.
Athletic Director Aubrey T. Lloyd III recommended two weeks ago that the district merge its eight football teams into four in 2013-14, saying it would make the city’s teams more competitive.
But after talking to coaches, parents, athletes and various people in the community in the past week or so, he said, he realized such a change requires more time.
“I learned a lot about Buffalo,” said Lloyd, a native of Syracuse who first came to Buffalo about 19 years ago. “You really have to vet this out in the community.”
Rather than consolidating to four teams – one in each quadrant of the city – in the next school year, the district instead will downsize from eight to seven teams, at Lloyd’s recommendation. International Prep’s team will merge with Riverside for the coming fall season.
This past August, 18 athletes were playing on International Prep’s team; by the end of the season, there remained only 16 – the minimum number required by state regulations, Lloyd said. Athletes from International Prep this fall will be able to play for the Riverside Frontiers, which will retain its name and continue to play at Riverside’s renovated field.
After moving to seven teams, the district will have more time to study a consolidation to four, he said.
“It’s a big task. We have to think about new uniforms, new names for the teams,” Lloyd said. “This would give us time to think this through more thoroughly and come up with a good plan.”
Board members thanked Lloyd for altering his original recommendation for four teams: Buffalo North, Buffalo South, Buffalo West and Buffalo East. Most board members still seemed generally supportive of such a merger, but only after the community has more time to study and discuss it.
“I think we need more time to reconsider this, to move to four teams, if need be, and go out to the community and share this,” said Rosalyn L. Taylor, who represents the East District. “Taking it slow is my recommendation.”
Board member Barbara Seals Nevergold urged Lloyd to begin as soon as possible the discussion about a 2014-15 merger. “We have a tendency, sometimes, to put things on the back burner,” she said. “I hope the conversation will get started this year and not wait until next year.”
The proposal sparked opposition from many who said students would be less likely to want to play for a team that did not bear their school’s name. Opponents also said the proposal was likely to mean some students would be excluded.
Lloyd said he recently surveyed the principals of the eight schools that have football teams. The principals of East and Hutch-Tech supported merging to four teams next year, he said.
The principals of McKinley and Riverside did not support the merger next year and did not want any further discussion of it, he said. The principals of the other four schools supported consolidating to seven teams next year and then revisiting the issue for 2014-15.
In unrelated business at Wednesday’s meeting, Superintendent Pamela C. Brown updated the board on the state Education Department’s review of Buffalo’s teacher-evaluation plan, which was submitted Tuesday and must be approved by the state by today for the district to retain $33.4 million in state aid.
Brown said state officials advised the district Wednesday about a number of details in the plan that need to be tweaked before the plan can be approved.
“We were able to clean up a lot of technical things, a little rewording or whatever. We are working through the final details of the plan right now,” Brown said. “We are very, very hopeful we will have an approved plan by [the deadline].”