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Making experience-based comeback, Hernandez cites record in bid to mend School Board divisiveness

Ralph R. Hernandez says he is running on his record as he seeks to reclaim a seat on the Buffalo Board of Education, where he served for nine years.

During his tenure as the West District representative, he was instrumental in the vote three years ago to overturn the residency rule that required teachers to live in the city.

“I strongly believe teachers should be able to live anywhere,” he said. “I think it’s a constitutional issue. Secondly, you can cast a wider net and get more qualified people to compete for those positions.”

During his prior tenure, Hernandez also advocated for better services for students whose native language is not English. After he championed the issue for six years, the board agreed to establish the multilingual education advisory committee to identify ways the district can better serve such students.

He also pushed the district to expand its free lunch program to include all students, regardless of family income.

Hernandez lost his seat last year, getting removed from the ballot after many of the signatures on his nominating petitions were ruled invalid. He waged an aggressive write-in campaign, with the help of the teachers union, but lost his seat to James M. Sampson.

This year, Hernandez waited until just 10 days before nominating petitions were due before deciding to run for a five-year term in the May 6 election, he said.

“I wanted to gauge the field to see who was going to be in the field. I wanted to gauge my chances of winning,” he said. “I have more experience than any other candidate.”

Hernandez, 63, said he thinks he can help mend some of the divisiveness on the current board.

“I thought the board was contentious when I was there, but it’s really bad now,” he said. “Right now, the discussions on the board are about who’s got the power. How are you going to get to the issues at hand if everything is contentious? I think I bring that kind of demeanor to the board.”

Hernandez said that while he does not have specific ideas about how to turn around low-performing schools, he does think it is essential to create better working relationships with area colleges and universities so that they can be involved with finding ways to improve those schools.

“I do think we need to engage the higher-learning institutions like we have in the past, but we have to do it in a more transparent way, and we need to have the conversations a lot earlier,” he said. “Normally, we have two or three months to put together these plans for the schools.”

Hernandez has proposed creating a committee comprising representatives from the district and from charter schools to create better communication and trust between the two and talk about best practices. He said he is open to the possibility of opening more charter schools in the city, depending on the specific program each school proposes.

He has declined to say whether he would vote to retain Pamela C. Brown as superintendent. Before making a decision, he said, he would want to review the board’s evaluation and talk to her in person to better understand decisions she has made.

Hernandez, who works as a consultant writing grants and providing other services, has the support of the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the AFL-CIO. Several paid organizers from New York City who have ties to the Working Families Party circulated his nominating petitions.

BTF President Philip Rumore stopped short of saying the union provided that help. Hernandez, however, said Rumore assured him that the union would provide help on the streets.

“I support the unions 100 percent, but I’m not beholden to anybody,” Hernandez said, pointing to his relationship with the BTF to try to make that point. “If you recall in 2010, when I got elected president of the board. Rumore said, ‘It will be a cold day in hell before I support him again.’ There’s only one thing that matters when you do this job: It’s your integrity.”

Ralph R. Hernandez

Age: 63

Occupation: Consultant

Campaign supporters: Buffalo Teachers Federation, AFL-CIO

Position on retaining Superintendent Pamela C. Brown: Would not say

More charter schools: Yes

More city funding for education: Yes

Priorities: Improved relations among board members, better dist