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School Board to have new members 5 contests slated in May 1 election

At least three new members will be elected to the Buffalo Board of Education when voters fill six district board seats May 1.

New members will replace Donald Van Every in the North District, Jack Coyle in the Park District and Janique Curry in the Central District, all of whom chose not to seek re-election.

The election features 14 candidates in six districts, and five of those districts have at least two candidates.

The exception is the North District, where Catherine Nugent Panepinto, a lawyer and secretary of the Parent-Teacher Organization at Olmsted School 64, is the only candidate to file a petition. Barring a write-in campaign, she is assured of election to a three-year term with yearly pay of $5,000.

Unlike most municipal elections, School Board races generally attract candidates without highly developed political alliances or experience in public office.

"I see lots of individuals doing their own things," Van Every said of the candidate field. "That's probably the way it should be."

And while school violence and the bold initiatives and style of Superintendent James A. Williams are high-profile issues, many board candidates highlight more general concerns about test scores, dropout rates and effective use of a $46 million state aid boost for 2007-08.

"It would be very, very easy to make this about James Williams," said Lou Petrucci, one of three Park District candidates. "But it's about so much more than James Williams."

These are the election highlights:

*East District -- Gregory B. Olma, who developed a reputation as a maverick during eight years on the Erie County Legislature, is challenging incumbent Vivian O. Evans.

Evans, the board's vice president for student achievement, said she will push to improve student test scores, restore art and music to the elementary grades and support Williams' three-year academic plan. "Student achievement, student achievement and student achievement," is how she describes the issues.

Olma, a senior administrative assistant in the county Emergency Services Department, calls for an expansion of the city's prekindergarten program and tighter management of the $1 billion school reconstruction program. He said he will seek to eliminate private, small-group meetings between Williams and board members and replace them with caucuses open to the public.

*West District -- Incumbent Ralph Hernandez, who has been critical of the Williams administration's bidding procedures and labor relations efforts, is being challenged by Clarissa Acosta, a manager for Bank of America and co-founder of a West Side community group that works with at-risk youth.

Acosta, who stresses the need for parent involvement, better communication and enhanced after-school programs, said she favors a cooperative approach. "I personally do not like to speak ill about people," she said. "I'm anti-controversy. I'm not anti-Ralph."

Hernandez, who pushed for a recently approved policy on teaching students whose primary language is not English, said he will seek a bid procurement steering committee and a truancy reduction program. "Experience is going to be my theme," he said. "My passion for public education is stronger than ever."

*Park District -- Concern for school safety is especially strong in a district where all three candidates seeking to succeed Coyle believe disciplinary procedures must be tightened up to protect well-behaved students and teachers.

Gerald T. Quinn, who held positions in finance and insurance and is now semiretired, also favors a greater emphasis on neighborhood schools, with enrollment preference given to parents who want their children at schools near their homes.

Kevin J. Becker, a substitute teacher in Buffalo and a driver education instructor in parochial schools, said the gap must be narrowed between high- and low-performing schools.

Petrucci, a city building inspector, called for efforts to improve graduation rates and to highlight the importance not only of academics, but of vocational and technological training as well.

*Central District -- The largest field of candidates is in Central, where four people are seeking to replace Curry.

Joyce E. Nixon, executive director of National Inner Cities Youth Opportunities, said she wants to represent the individual needs of parents and students. "I consider it an opportunity to give my clients a voice," she said. "They need to have access. It's my job to give it to them."

Jayne K. Rand, a vice president of M&T Bank and a director of Rand Capital Corp., said she has the business experience and common sense to help improve schools so that children don't leave for suburban or private schools.

"That happens over and over again," she said. "The issue of schools is ever-present."

Mary R. Kapsiak, who was a teacher, assistant principal and supervisor of elementary education in Buffalo before retiring in 2006, said improvement will result only through teamwork. "If we don't hold teachers accountable, administrators accountable and parents accountable, we are still going to have the same problems," she said.

Edward M. Daniels, the fourth Central District candidate, did not return calls seeking comment.

*Ferry District -- The Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer, appointed to a board vacancy in March, is seeking a full term against Pamela D. Cahill.

Pointer, associate pastor at Pilgrim Baptist Church and a coordinator at Enterprise Charter School, supports Williams' three-year plan and encourages district labor unions to return to the bargaining table to seek new contracts.

Cahill, a former Buffalo teacher's aide, long-term substitute teacher and foster mother, emphasizes literacy skills in the early grades, before- and after-school programming, internships for older students and reducing the district's dropout rate.

The board's three at-large seats are not on the ballot this year.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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