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November election for School Board will boost turnout, save city money

The recent School Board election in the City of Buffalo drew many more voters than the previous one, but that isn’t saying much. The paltry turnout is why it’s important to move city School Board elections from May to November.

This year we saw one of the most controversial elections in recent memory, and fewer than 12,000 voters turned out. More than 3,200 of those votes were cast in the Park District, where developer Carl P. Paladino overwhelmed opponent Adrian F. Harris.

But it shouldn’t take an electrifying candidate to raise voter turnout. One sure-fire method of drawing more voters would be to align the School Board election with November’s general election.

This has been a rallying cry for many who hope that turning out more voters will mean special interests would have less influence over the outcomes. When voter turnout is very low, special interests find it easier to prevail. This year supporters of the teachers union poured big money into a sleazy direct mail campaign against Paladino and candidates assumed to be associated with him. The political attack was ugly and unfair, and it failed.

State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, has introduced a bill that would move Buffalo’s election from May to November. The bill has passed the Senate three times, then died in the Assembly. It is time for the Assembly to go along.

Proponents for moving the election date make a strong financial argument that holding a separate election outside the regular election cycle costs an undue amount of money to accommodate a small percentage of the eligible voting public. Grisanti estimates his bill would save taxpayers more than $100,000.

Opponents of switching from May to November argue that the May vote has been aligned with planning for the next fiscal and academic year that typically begins in the late fall and wraps up in early spring, according to information from the New York State School Boards Association. According to that thinking, having the election in November, with new members taking their seats on Jan. 1, would be bad because new members would start in the middle of the planning cycle for the coming year’s budget.

But that would be better than what happens now. The School Board just approved next year’s budget, weeks before the new members take their seats. That means the newly elected board members will have to wait nearly a year for their input on budget matters to be felt.

Americans are used to making important electoral decisions in November; Buffalo School Board election numbers are dismal. The solution is simple: The Assembly needs to join the Senate in changing the election date.