Buffalo voters elect neighborhood representatives to the city School Board Tuesday, and the results of this election could redefine the board's level of support for Superintendent James A. Williams and reshape debate on issues such as teacher contracts, standards-based testing, school violence, report cards and school construction.
With no at-large seats at stake, voters will cast ballots in six districts. In two of them, only one name will be on the ballot -- lawyer Catherine Nugent Panepinto in the North District and Pamela D. Cahill in the Ferry District. Both are qualified and require no endorsement, although each faces write-in bids (from appointed incumbent Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer in Ferry and retired teacher Fred Yellen in North).
Despite a significant infusion of new state financial aid, the Buffalo school system still faces major challenges. The News offers readers its endorsements in the remaining four races with choices on the ballot. Our endorsements are intended as recommendations for voters to use as another tool in reaching their own vote-casting decisions.
*Central District: Incumbent Janique S. Curry has chosen not to seek re-election. Although write-in candidacies are difficult at best, we take the unusual step of endorsing a write-in candidate in this race. Jayne K. Rand simply brings an immense amount of financial and business expertise to her bid for a seat on a board facing financial challenges. That skill set is impossible to overlook.
Rand is a vice president of M&T Bank and a director of Rand Capital Corp., with strong communications skills and an ability to digest financial data that would serve the district well. She also is committed to working with teachers, and her 20 years in deal-making as a mortgage banker has honed her ability to hear concerns, balance interests, focus on collaboration and reach consensus.
She faces strong candidates whose names will be on the ballot. For anyone most concerned with school violence issues, Joyce E. Nixon -- executive director of National Inner Cities Youth Opportunities -- is a strong and impassioned student advocate who offers clear and concise plans on how to deal with that and a very good overall understanding of the implications for generations when children are lost to the system. Mary R. Kapsiak, a former special education and reading teacher, assistant principal and supervisor of elementary education in Buffalo before retiring last year, brings to the table a wealth of educational experience. Either would serve well. A fourth candidate, Edward M. Daniels, also was ruled off the ballot after a petition signature challenge.
*East District: Incumbent Vivian O. Evans, although a low-key board member during her first term, should be returned to this seat. Her experience in dealing with the turbulent financial and program issues of the past few years gives her an advantage in this race. A member of the Joint Schools Construction Board and School Board vice president for student achievement, she understands the importance of finances but also stresses the need for art, music and an extended school day.
Her opponent, Gregory B. Olma, is an experienced politician and former county legislator with a reputation for fiery independence. A father of two young children, he backs early childhood education, expanding prekindergarten and an increase in school discipline.
*Park District: Incumbent Jack Coyle has chosen not to run for re-election. We endorse Louis J. Petrucci, one of three candidates on the ballot.
Petrucci is a city building inspector and former city housing director who has placed his focus on improving graduation rates and on vocational and technological training. With three children in district schools, Petrucci is aware of the issues. When his children were at St. Ambrose, he served as a board member and then as School Board president. In that role, he had to deal with a charter school opening and the need to raise the level of options in the face of competition -- a parallel to challenges facing Buffalo public schools.
His on-ballot opponents are Gerald T. Quinn, who held positions in finance and insurance and is currently semi-retired, and Kevin J. Becker, a Buffalo substitute teacher and driver education instructor in parochial schools. Quinn focuses on increased vocational and mandatory character training classes, and Becker notes experience and qualifications working in a variety of school districts. There's a write-in campaign by Buffalo Police Officer Anthony LeBron.
*West District: Incumbent Ralph Hernandez should be returned to the School Board because of his experience in complex board issues. He brings an independent, if sometimes combative, critical voice. His public disagreements with the school superintendent are well documented.
Three years ago when he ran, Hernandez promised parents and taxpayers he would work to improve the quality of education and hold the district accountable to ensure state or federal grant money reaches the classroom. He has certainly been cognizant of that role, questioning grants more than any other board member.
Opponent Clarissa Acosta is a manager for Bank of America and co-founder of a West Side community group working with at-risk youth. A young parent with a child in public school, she wants better communication between teachers and parents as well as after-school activities for students.