Sixteen residents of Buffalo eased the urgent task of the city School Board, whose members must fill the vacancy left by Carl Paladino, the Park District member exiled last month by Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
That’s how many qualified candidates are offering their services to the district. Nineteen had put their names in, but one fell short of the legal qualifications and two others withdrew their names. Those who remain include several with school district experience and others in responsible positions that suggest maturity and good judgment.
Although Paladino brought some valuable expertise to the board, good judgment was not his forte. His divisiveness and recklessness overwhelmed whatever strengths he contributed to the board. In seeking a successor, the board must find someone who combines knowledge, intelligence, commitment and common sense. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the new member was someone who set a good example for the district’s students, as Paladino did not.
He was removed from the board on Aug. 17 when Elia, making what looks like a political decision, ruled that he had publicly revealed information from an executive session of the board. He clearly had, but so do many other public officials, including some others on the School Board.
The genesis of the effort to remove him was in the reaction to the vulgar, racially drenched comments he made in December about former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Those seeking his removal changed their approach when it became clear that First Amendment considerations would have invalidated the initial strategy. To her discredit, Elia bought it, making a decision that, except in highly unusual circumstances, should always be left to the voters.
Complicating the work of replacing Paladino is his promised appeal of Elia’s decision. Regardless, the board has 30 days from his ouster to name a successor by majority vote. If it fails, the task will fall to Mayor Byron W. Brown, who would have an additional 30 days to name a new member and win confirmation by the Common Council.
The immediate question is which of the 16 candidates will best serve the interests of students, parents and taxpayers. Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold says she is looking for a replacement who can work collaboratively with the board, which is probably a good start. Our hesitation is that the board was dysfunctional even before Paladino joined it. Collaboration is good, but so is respectful challenge and disagreement.
Fundamentally, what the board needs is a competent placeholder: someone capable of helping to move the district forward until voters have a chance to choose a new board member. Unfortunately, it appears that opportunity won’t come until May 2019, when Paladino’s three-year term would have expired.
That’s a defect in the system. The law should be changed so that an appointed member serves only until the next scheduled time for school votes, when a special board election can also be held.
The board’s work could be undone if Paladino prevails in his appeal, but there is no choice right now but to proceed. Important work remains to be done and a full board will do better at that than a diminished one. With so many good candidates, it shouldn’t be difficult.