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Buffalo voters have a stark choice to make in today’s election for the School Board

This is the day that voters in the Buffalo School District will decide if public education is about students or about pressure groups that want to control the agenda for their own benefit. The results of today’s School Board elections will have a tremendous impact on that question.

Little could be more important to Buffalo students, or to the city, whose revival requires families considering it to believe their children will receive a high-quality education. That requires a commitment to high standards, accountability and testing of students. Those concepts are always important, but they are under sustained assault this year, not only from the teachers unions, but even from the State Board of Regents, whose membership has changed and, with it, its passion for excellence.

Even the new chancellor of the Board of Regents, Betty A. Rosa, recently advocated that parents opt their children out of testing. That may seem par for the course in a year when even presidential candidates are advocating radical positions that none ever dared speak before, but it’s all evidence of devolution, and of a sort that parents who want the best possible education for their children must necessarily oppose.

It’s not only that the unions oppose accountability, but by gaining control of the School Board, they can wield unwarranted and unethical influence over contract negotiations. Although teachers have been without a contract for more than 10 years, that is partly due to the unwillingness of the Buffalo Teachers Federation to negotiate seriously.

Two-thirds of the School Board’s seats are up for election today, and in two races, the better candidates are waging write-in campaigns. They are Board President James Sampson, seeking to retain his West District seat, and East District challenger Patricia Elliott. The graphic accompanying this editorial explains how to cast a write-in ballot.

Here is a review of our endorsements in the five contested races in today’s elections:

West District: Re-elect Sampson, who was knocked off the ballot. The board president has demonstrated consistent leadership, ensuring, for example, that the board conducted a wide search for the right superintendent to succeed the well-credentialed but ineffective Pamela Brown. Kriner Cash is here because of Sampson’s resolve. The progress the district has made over the past year and a half will best continue under his leadership.

His opponent, Jennifer Mecozzi, had no specific goals for the district and lacked familiarity with key issues.

North District: Re-elect Jason McCarthy, who has been a steady and reliable advocate for improving education. His support helped secure Cash as superintendent, providing the kind of able and farsighted leader for which the district has been thirsting. His opponent, Hope R. Jay, is supported by the Buffalo Teachers Federation and was evasive in many answers about her candidacy. She hadn’t attended any School Board meetings.

East District: Elect challenger Patricia Elliott, who is waging a write-in campaign after losing her place on the ballot. She holds deep knowledge of the intricacies of School Board policy and district operations through membership in the District Parent Coordinating Council.

She wants to address what she sees as a lack of diversity among teachers, which she suggests could be solved by the district growing its own future teachers. She would also attack “wrongful suspensions” of students and ensure they are not forced to remain in failing schools.

The incumbent, Theresa A. Harris-Tigg, is an assistant professor of English education at SUNY Buffalo State. She points to her running of the student achievement committee for the past three years as an example of an effective educational partnership organization liaison. But she has been underwhelming in her performance on the board.

Central District: Elect Bryon J. McIntyre to succeed incumbent Mary Ruth Kapsiak, who is stepping down. McIntyre is a social justice and educational advocate and has held a number of roles, including vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.

McIntyre is actively involved in the schools on behalf of children. As DPCC vice president, he helps parents navigate the district’s system. He has several ideas for the district, including the possibility of a “controlled bankruptcy” that might allow new contracts. It is a creative plan that would require careful examination, of course. But his “white paper” on the district’s issues is worth reading.

His opponent, Paulette Woods, spent 32 years in the Erie County Department of Probation as a senior budget examiner and has several years of management experience in the county youth department. But she is backed by the teachers union, which has shown little interest in improving the quality of education in Buffalo schools.

Park District: Re-elect Carl Paladino who, despite his many defects, has been responsible for the push for reform in the district. Without Paladino, the board would not include such able members as Larry Quinn and Patricia Pierce, and it would still be saddled with Brown’s ineffectual leadership.

His opponent, 18-year-old Austin Harig, is a senior in high school and, although he is clearly interested in education policy, he is not prepared for this office.