Mayor is not the answer to help ailing city school district - The Buffalo News

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Mayor is not the answer to help ailing city school district

I can’t see how this helps in any way, shape or form.

And I can’t see how anyone, based on Byron W. Brown’s track record, thinks it would.

The mayor last week talked about having a say in Buffalo’s schools. Mayoral-involvement models in other cities range from near-total control – as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg did in New York City – to the naming of a couple of school board members.

Then there’s the no-input model, which looks just fine for Buffalo.

There are plenty of problems with the city’s schools. But how can an initiative-lite, vision-challenged, cause-averse mayor with a reputation for politicizing everything he touches be part of the solution? Yes, having a mayoral hand on the wheel has bumped up school results in some cities. But, to large degree, that depends on the drive and vision of the mayor. And Brown, no offense, is no Bloomberg.

In some unfortunate ways, he’d merely reinforce the district’s dysfunction. School Superintendent Pamela Brown & Co. get blasted for a lack of transparency and a reluctance to share information. Mayor Brown is notorious for running a tight-lipped ship, where rank-and-file workers are barred from reporter contact and department heads must be pre-cleared for interviews. Somehow I don’t think he’s the guy to open Pamela Brown’s eyes.

I don’t want to beat up on the mayor. The city does a decent job with basic services. He’s grown more comfortable over nine years in following the lead of activists on everything from walkable neighborhoods to bike lanes. He projects concern and serves at a time when forces largely beyond his control are transforming the waterfront and downtown. There’s something to be said for his interest in city schools, however sudden.

“I think all community leaders have a responsibility to ask how they can help to change the direction of the district,” said reformist School Board member Jim Sampson. “The mayor should be commended for wanting to step in.”

Fair enough. But Brown has been so silent for so long on so many big issues, I can’t imagine what he’d bring to the schools.

Brown whiffed on a poverty plan, is M.I.A. on preservation, mum on city-enhancing regional planning and smart growth, silent on urban-killing sprawl, invisible on ECC City Campus advocacy, nowhere on public transportation problems and – significantly – has been absent on education reform. He was a spectator to the millennium’s signature development, the charter-school revolution. So what, exactly, would Brown add to the boardroom table?

My fear is Brown would use any school-based power to deliver patronage and expand his political base. His tenure is pockmarked with tales of City Hall workers strong-armed into “volunteering” for his campaigns; of civil service rules being bent to promote or hire his cronies; of rules-protectant human resource leaders leaving prematurely in disgust over Deputy Mayor Steve Casey’s meddling.

The mayor getting a piece of the city’s schools? Sorry, but the district already has enough problems.


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