The Buffalo Common Council unanimously approved a perennial resolution Tuesday asking the State Legislature for permission to move the date for future Buffalo School Board elections from May to the date of the November general election.
North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. has sponsored similar resolutions nine other times since he first joined the Council in 1995, each time to no avail.
But Golombek and other city lawmakers at the Council’s business meeting Tuesday insisted that there are several common-sense reasons to hold School Board elections in November, not the least of which would be to take advantage of the higher turnout that typically occurs during a general election and to save the expense of funding two separate elections.
“This is about fiscal responsibility and the savings of dollars. Each School Board election costs approximately $250,000. It is the county that pays for that, but it’s still taxpayer dollars that are spent towards these elections.
“And the greatest turnout that, I think, we have ever had is just over 10 percent of the entire electorate,” said Golombek.
He suggested that resistance to moving the School Board election to November is largely political.
Ironically, it was after a voter referendum passed in 1973 that the Buffalo Board of Education held its first May election in 1974, an effort that was aimed at ensuring the School Board was independent and nonpolitical.
However, Golombek on Tuesday noted that voter participation in May elections is often fueled by special interests that often are from opposite ends of the political spectrum.
“Sometimes it’s the union. Sometimes it’s the Partnership, who are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I don’t want a School Board that’s controlled by either faction,” Golombek said.
“May School Board elections have not taken politics out of the races. As I’ve mentioned, people on both sides have thrown tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars into the races so that their specific candidate (wins),” he added.
Golombek also insisted that holding School Board elections during the general election would have a moderating influence on the factions that participate.
Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana noted how the campaigns of several candidates in this year’s School Board race were imperiled because they were unable to secure enough signatures for their petitions.
He said candidates are likely to have access to more people while campaigning in the summer months.
He also expressed hope that the State Legislature would take up the issue this time, noting that school boards in Rochester and Syracuse both hold their elections in November.
Eight of the nine Buffalo Council members signed on Tuesday as co-sponsors of Golombek’s resolution. Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera said that, while he agreed with his colleagues in principle, he needed more information to understand the rationale behind the State Legislature’s reticence.