The Buffalo Board of Education may seem like an unlikely career move for a longtime developer and former part-owner of the Buffalo Sabres.
Larry Quinn acknowledges he’s an outsider when it comes to education issues and says his political ambitions are limited to helping fix what he sees as a dysfunctional school system.
“Those that want to make this entirely about Pam Brown are missing the issue entirely,” Quinn said of this year’s election and the focus on ousting the superintendent he thinks is doing a very poor job. “The system is broken. The way the system is set up is completely anti-change and anti-innovation.”
One of the most recognizable candidates in this year’s race, Quinn underscores the growing interest business leaders here and elsewhere are taking in education, driven at least in part by the reality that good public schools are critical to the success of the region.
What he lacks in academic experience, Quinn and his supporters say, he has when it comes to turning around struggling organizations. He says it is his intention to serve his full term if elected.
“I know how to hire people; I know how to evaluate people and whether they’re doing their job,” he said. “I think I know how to lead people.”
Quinn has been a notable figure on Buffalo’s political and business scene for decades. He started his public career as the director of development under then-Mayor James D. Griffin, a position he assumed when he was 24 years old.
During his time on the job, he spearheaded some of the area’s biggest economic-development projects, including Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and what is now First Niagara Center. He later went on to become a part-owner of the Sabres with then-owner B. Thomas Golisano.
Since then, Quinn has remained largely out of the public eye, spending several months of the year in France. He also recently produced a movie with several Buffalo school graduates from the East Side, an experience he said opened his eyes to the challenges that many young people face – and the potential that exists in every student.
The issues Quinn has become most vocal about reflect his business background and what some critics call the “corporate reform” agenda, where successful schools come with heightened accountability and competition.
That includes a push for more charter schools and making Buffalo a more appealing place for them to operate, possibly by sharing space or other district resources. Quinn notes that while the area has several strong charter schools, Buffalo has yet to attract one of the national charter school organizations – such as Uncommon Schools – that have been successful in other urban districts.
More charter schools would spur competition that theoretically would force district schools to perform better, Quinn said, and if not, they would offer more options to parents who feel the Buffalo Public Schools are failing them.
Quinn, 62, has spent much of his time during the campaign talking to charter school parents about why they left the Buffalo school system. Often their answer is to escape a culture of low expectations for students, he said. “We need to build a system so that if the schools can’t provide what the students need, they have another option,” he said.
Quinn said he decided to run for the board when he was approached by several people from the community, including businessman Frank J. McGuire and developer Carl P. Paladino, a current board member who has vowed to get behind candidates who will support his push to remove Brown as superintendent.
Early in his campaign, Quinn attracted support from some notable players in the community. That includes the Buffalo Niagara Partnership business group; Students First, the education reform group founded by Michelle A. Rhee; and both Democratic and Republican political operatives.
In addition to the volunteer help, Quinn has received $34,000 in donations from prominent businesspeople, including Uniland Development President Carl J. Montante, Rich Products Chairman Robert E. Rich Jr., and F. James McGuire and Frank McGuire of the McGuire Group.