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The News offers its recommendations in races for Buffalo Board of Education

Has there ever been a more important School Board election in Buffalo? The district is floundering and if not rudderless, close to it.

Simply put, students are being cheated of the “sound, basic education” to which they are entitled by the state constitution.

But Buffalo has an opportunity now to change direction and what may be a once-in-a-lifetime inducement to do so. Private-sector money is pouring into the district through such efforts as Say Yes to Education, Promise Neighborhoods and the Hillside Work-Scholarship program. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is promising to help districts that extend their school day, insisting on reform in exchange for funding.

The task of improving education is critical not only to Buffalo students, but to the entire community, whose fortunes rise and fall in part on the willingness of families to live in Buffalo.

The work falls on many shoulders, including parents, teachers, principals and administrators, but it begins with the School Board, and Buffalo’s is weak. Too many of its members are simply not up to the task of leading what amounts to a billion-dollar business whose success is urgent and yet never significantly improves.

There is plenty of blame to go around, including all of those named in the previous paragraph and, significantly, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which seems incapable of supporting teachers and also embracing reform. A week from Tuesday, voters will have their chance to insist upon change.

Some candidates for School Board are head-and-shoulders better than their opponents, others offer only weak alternatives.

But with Buffalo developer and former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino on the ballot – a lightning rod, if ever there was one – interest in the election is running high. That may increase turnout in an election that is typically ignored, a phenomenon that benefits candidates backed by the BTF.

We have interviewed the candidates in all contested races and our endorsements follow. Because candidates in the East and Ferry districts have no opponents, we offer no endorsement.

Park District

This decision ought to be easy, but it is maddeningly complicated by questions about Carl Paladino’s history of forwarding racist and otherwise vulgar emails.

The Buffalo School District is desperate for change and, whatever his defects, Paladino is clearly the change agent among the entire field of candidates. He seems to have a genuine passion for improving the education of Buffalo’s students, and while his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to – well, just about everything – would undoubtedly cause problems, it could also have its benefits in a district that ducks change as effectively as a Sasquatch ducks photographers.

What is more, his opponent, Adrian Harris, shows no evidence of being able to push for any kind of change. He is a likeable man who would make a terrific teacher’s aide – which, in fact, he is, at Lancaster Central High School – but there are no signs of fire in the belly. He would bring nothing critical to the School Board.

But we won’t endorse Paladino, either. He insists that he is not racist, but he shows no comprehension that the emails he forwarded not only suggest that – and powerfully – but that they would be painful and insulting to thousands of minority families and students in the district he wishes to serve.

While he is, in some ways, the candidate this district has needed, we cannot lend the weight of this page to a candidate who still insists those vile emails were funny. No one is perfect and it is always necessary to allow people their failings, but in life, there are some bright lines. Paladino crossed this one.

Nevertheless, it seems all but certain that Paladino will win this race; the South Buffalo neighborhood supported him overwhelmingly in his 2010 campaign for governor. If he does win, it will be his chance to prove that he is not racist.

He could go a long way toward showing that by acknowledging the despicable nature of those emails.

Central District

In this district, School Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak is facing a challenge from Bryon J. McIntyre, a retired Buffalo firefighter and former substitute teacher in the Buffalo School District. Neither is a strong candidate, given the district’s desperate needs, but McIntyre is the better of the two. He at least represents a change, which could be useful, and Kapsiak has shown no ability to move the district forward.

North District

This race pits incumbent Jason McCarthy against two challengers, both of whom bring strengths to the campaign. Neither, however, trumps McCarthy’s passion for change and his overall record of working on behalf of the community. He deserves another term.

McCarthy, restaurant and bar manager at Hutch’s Restaurant, is focused on improving the schools with an emphasis on the district’s wellness and nutritional programs. He also has a documented ability to work with other people and to see projects through to completion.

His opponents are Wendy Mistetta, who holds a doctorate in higher education and a master’s degree in student personnel administration, and Susan Gillick, a retired school administrator who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology. Either could be an effective member of the School Board, but they didn’t make the case for unseating McCarthy.

West District

There are many reasons to recommend James M. Sampson for the School Board. He is the county control board chairman and president and CEO of Gateway-Longview, a position from which he is exiting soon. He is also board president of Buffalo ReformED.

He brings more than 25 years of experience in managing complex organizations in a variety of settings.

Sampson is a founding member of the West Buffalo Charter School, which opened last August. He has a plan to increase parental involvement in the school system.

Incumbent Ralph Hernandez has been knocked off the ballot, but will be in court Tuesday attempting to win back his spot. Failing that, he has promised to wage an aggressive write-in campaign.

Hernandez has been on the board for nine years, some of that time as president. His record shows little reason to return him to office.