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Another Voice: Mayoral control of Buffalo schools would be an attack on democracy

By Larry Scott

There have been many claims by elected officials that parents, teachers and community members are demanding mayoral control of Buffalo schools and that they have been involved in crafting legislation for this to occur. It appears only a select few are orchestrating this, not the public, not the community. There has been very little public discourse on the matter, including input into the creation of Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes’ Bill 7680 on mayoral control. As a result, it is hard not to be suspicious about the motives of forcing this on the Buffalo community.

In a community meeting held by Peoples-Stokes, which I attended on May 21, mayoral control dominated the discussion, even though this meeting was not publicized to discuss the matter. It was quite evident that most in attendance, not all, were not receptive to her mayoral control bill. When the assemblywoman was pressed on who she had consulted in the community about mayoral control, she indicated retired teachers and the leadership of one parent group.

She further indicated that the United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers were consulted in crafting her bill. NYSUT represents teachers statewide and UFT represents teachers in New York City. How does this translate to including the voices of Buffalo parents, educators and community members?

Though our current Board of Education is not perfect and can be contentious, at times, each member is publicly elected and serves as a representative to the Buffalo community.

The Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization does not believe that the determination of who serves on the Board of Education should be taken from the public and placed into the hands of one individual. The BPTO supports and believes in local control of our Buffalo schools. It should be the local public – educators, parents, students and community members – that determines the fate of our schools, with a publicly elected Board of Education. 

Over the past several months, we have witnessed increased public engagement in the public discourse of Buffalo Public Schools. Democracy is alive and well, as shown in the attendance of more than a hundred community members at many Board of Education meetings. This should be fostered, not stripped away. Sometimes public participation and democracy are a struggle, sometimes an inconvenience, but they are necessary in a functional public education system. Eliminating a publicly elected Board of Education and handing it over to the mayor would be an attack on democracy and, in turn, another threat to the vitality of public education.

I urge the Buffalo community to contact your Assembly members and senators and urge them not to support Bill 7680.

Larry Scott is co-chairman of the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization.