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Another Voice: Mayoral control flies in the face of democracy

By Gene Grabiner

Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution stipulates that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government …”

The word republic comes from the Latin res publica, or “public thing.” In the United States our republic, our public thing, is a representative democracy based on the consent of governed. So, the American republic rests on the vote, which is how the consent of the governed is achieved.

The federal government guarantees a republican form of government at all levels of the state, including villages, towns, cities, counties and even elected school boards.

Per Article IV, Section 4, receivership of the Buffalo Public School District is unconstitutional. Neither the federal nor the state government has the authority to usurp a republican form of government where elections have been specified.

Now, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, co-chairwoman of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s re-election campaign, is introducing a bill to abolish the elected Board of Education and replace it with a mayor-appointed board. And she has said that this bill “will not negate the democratic process at all.”

Doubtless, Cuomo, his Wall Street backers and charter school profiteers support the bill. Members of the local corporate elite may also support a mayoral takeover of the Buffalo schools and the Board of Education. State Sen. Marc Panepinto is also in the mix, having proposed legislation to allow the mayor to appoint two additional members to the board.

Ironically, Panepinto was elected with strong NYSUT support; but his proposal for appointed board members whittles away at democracy. And mayoral control may jeopardize the very existence of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, a NYSUT unit.

Some say that since Mayor Byron Brown has been elected, and enjoys the consent of the governed, his power should extend to the takeover and appointment of the Buffalo Board of Education. But that would violate the U.S. Constitution. It would also violate the Buffalo City Charter, which stipulates an elected Board of Education, and the New York State Constitution, which provides for appointment to boards of education only to fill vacancies, and only until the next board election.

In my view, Peoples-Stokes et al. seem to have little regard for democracy. The public has a right to have a say in public school management. And that right is exercised at the ballot box.

The only way for mayoral control to be tested by the rigor of democracy is for the issue to be placed before the voters as a ballot referendum in November. This is so regardless of Peoples-Stokes’ draconian bill.

Gene Grabiner, of Buffalo, is a SUNY distinguished service professor emeritus.