By Chris Jacobs
Currently there is much discussion around the concept of mayoral control of the Buffalo schools, which would eliminate the elected Buffalo Board of Education.
While I believe it is very healthy to consider new structures for educating our students in the 21st century, we should be cautious any time we are decreasing representative governance in our society.
In that regard, before we take the rather extreme measure of eliminating an elected board, may I suggest we take a more simple step that I believe could make a significant difference? Let us move the Buffalo School Board election from the first week in May to the November general election.
Having run twice for the Buffalo School Board, I have experienced first-hand the pathetically low turnout for this critically important office. Typically Buffalo School Board elections see only a 3 to 5 percent voter turnout. Some district elections have seen candidates win with just 200 votes.
This dismally low voter turnout, when the Buffalo schools are charged with the futures of more than 30,000 students and a nearly $1 billion budget.
The problem with the current Buffalo School Board structure is that elections are held the first week in May, a time not recognized as an election season.
For this one election, polling stations are staffed throughout Buffalo for the entire day at a cost of over 100,000 taxpayer dollars.
The problem with such a low voter turnout is that it is very easy for a particular special interest group to hijack the election by turning out a small number of voters.
The original concept of a May election, and it was a laudable one, was to remove the School Board election from the “politics” surrounding November elections.
The reality is the low turnout has made Buffalo School Board elections even more political.
School Board elections are currently nonpartisan. Candidates do not run under a party and they could remain that way in a November election.
More important, putting the School Board election in November will elevate the stature of the School Board position to that of any other elected office.
It will also assure that thousands of additional city voters will be engaged in the School Board electoral process and engage the broader community in the critically important plight of our public school system.
Chris Jacobs is the Erie County clerk. He previously served for seven years as an member at large of the Buffalo School Board.