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Buffalo News endorses five School Board candidates who will keep up the pressure for change

With two-thirds of the seats on the Buffalo School Board up for election Tuesday, it’s no exaggeration to say that this is a critical election. Voters will decide whether the district is committed to improving the education of Buffalo’s children or if its commitment lies elsewhere.

Elsewhere includes the interests of New York State United Teachers, the Albany-based union that is inserting itself in the Buffalo election in the twin hopes of disrupting the push for change and – in a clear conflict of interest – ensuring that it can manipulate the negotiations on a new teachers contract.

Alone, that makes this election a watershed. Will voters, who in the two previous School Board elections demanded better education for Buffalo’s long-cheated students, hold fast to that insistence or will they give in to the critics who summarily reject accountability, high standards and, yes, even testing of students?

The board’s 5-4 majority that seeks excellence by breaking with failed policies of the past is in jeopardy, and the losers will be students who need to be able to thrive in an ever-more-competitive world and instead find themselves being left further and further behind by a languishing school district.

But excellence is also necessary for Buffalo, itself, to reach its potential. The still-missing component in Buffalo’s otherwise thrilling revival is the kind of top-flight education that will attract young families to the city instead of forcing them to the suburbs in search of a quality education.

The majority bloc on the board has accomplished much in its two years in power. First and foremost, the board hired Superintendent Kriner Cash, a nationally recognized figure in dealing with problem schools. The board has also begun a receivership program for failing schools, pushed for community schools, restructured the central office, approved a second Emerson School of Hospitality and offered new proposals for the stalled negotiations on a teachers contract.

This is no time to turn back the clock. The candidates voters choose will materially affect the kind of life Buffalo’s children will be offered. Little is more important.

Unfortunately, voters in the Ferry District have been deprived of a choice. Incumbent Sharon Belton-Cottman, endorsed by the teachers union, is running unopposed.

The Buffalo News editorial board is making endorsements in the other five races in order to help voters make their decisions.

West District

Re-electing Board President James Sampson is critical to maintaining gains on the board. He was knocked off the ballot and faces an uphill fight as a write-in candidate, but residents of his district must make the effort. Sampson, even-keeled and unflappable, demonstrated strong leadership in making sure that the board conducted a wide search for the right superintendent. Kriner Cash is here because of Sampson’s resolve.

The board president is able to work with outspoken personalities and to reach consensus in a way that stays true to his own values while keeping the students at the top of the agenda. The progress the district has made over the past year and a half – the graduation rate is up and there is an emphasis on preparing students for college and career – needs to continue with Sampson’s leadership on the board.

His opponent, Jennifer Mecozzi, is a mother of four who, other than improving district-parent communication, does not seem to have a specific agenda. In a meeting with the editorial board she lacked passing familiarity with key issues affecting the district.

North District

Jason McCarthy has been a steady and reliable advocate for improving education. For that, alone, he deserves re-election. He is appropriately proud of the district’s focus on nutrition, a key to any student’s ability to focus and learn. He wants to see the district offer medical and solar power programs, aligning it with two components of Buffalo’s developing economy.

His opponent, Hope R. Jay, is supported by the Buffalo Teachers Federation as well as County Executive Mark Poloncarz. She was evasive in many answers about her candidacy, but she opposes the receivership plan as well as any new charter schools, which, whatever their defects, give parents a choice and help pressure other schools to improve. And she hadn’t attended any School Board meetings.

East District

Incumbent Theresa A. Harris-Tigg should be replaced by Patricia Elliott, who is running as a write-in candidate after losing her place on the ballot. An employee of the Community Action Organization since 2008, Elliott’s deep knowledge of the intricacies of School Board policy and district operations has been honed through membership in the District Parent Coordinating Council, where she has served as vice president, and as a parent facilitator at schools her children attended.

Harris-Tigg, an assistant professor of English Education at SUNY Buffalo State, points to her running of the student achievement committee for the past three years. Still, her overall performance has been underwhelming.

Central District

Incumbent Mary Ruth Kapsiak is stepping down. Bryon J. McIntyre, a social justice and educational advocate, should be her successor.

McIntyre has had a number of roles, including vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. He is the group’s chairman for the special education parent advisory committee.

The other candidate, Paulette Woods, spent 32 years in the Erie County Department of Probation as a senior budget examiner and several years of management experience in the county youth department. She is backed by the teachers union.

Park District

For better or worse, this is an easy endorsement. Carl Paladino has made an important difference on the School Board. Despite all his defects – his offensive comments, his bullying, his sometime inability to function effectively on the board – it is because of his influence that the board is even interested in turning around an underperforming district.

Without Paladino, the board would not include such able members as Larry Quinn and Patricia Pierce, and it would still be saddled with the ineffectual Pamela Brown as superintendent. It would be better if he had the ability to treat adversaries with respect, but the point in this election is to protect the board’s commitment to improving the education offered to Buffalo students.

Also arguing in favor of Paladino is the unpreparedness of his opponent, Austin Harig, an 18-year-old senior in the district. This year, at least, Paladino is the better choice.