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Buffalo School Board forum, minus 3, addresses public

If you went to Tuesday’s public forum for School Board candidates expecting a raucous display of hostility and backbiting, you probably would have been disappointed.

Unlike the infighting and sparring that so often takes place on the factious School Board, the debate at the Burchfield Penney Art Center took a decidedly different tone. The candidates were on their best behavior. There were no nasty quips nor contentious exchanges.

Candidates even managed to find common ground on a number of issues, such as their ability to work with Superintendent Kriner Cash if elected to the board and the need to improve the diversity of teachers to meet the demographics of the district.

A big reason for the evening’s civility was the noticeable absence of some of the key candidates who would have engaged their opponents in more of a debate.

While all 12 candidates running for seats on the Buffalo School Board were invited to the debate sponsored by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists, the event was missing three of the incumbents from the board’s majority bloc – Jason M. McCarthy, Carl P. Paladino and board President James M. Sampson.

“I do not have an actual debate,” noted candidate Hope R. Jay, who is challenging McCarthy for his North District seat.

That opened the door for a few uncontested jabs, the biggest thrown by the election’s youngest candidate – 18-year-old Austin Harig, who is running against Paladino in the Park District. He noted how Paladino had called him a “spunky kid” who’s not prepared for the limelight.

“Yet,” Harig said, “I’m the one who showed up prepared to debate tonight, and he’s the one who didn’t.”

Nonetheless, roughly 50 people attended Tuesday’s forum, where they got a better sense for some of the candidates running for the six open seats on the nine-member School Board on May 3.

The event – moderated by WIVB-TV reporter Al Vaughters with questions from Claudine Ewing, reporter for WGRZ-TV, and Eva M. Doyle, columnist for the Buffalo Criterion – covered issues from low-performing schools to state test scores to neighborhood segregation.

The candidates who attended and some of their comments:

• Bryon J. McIntyre, Central District – McIntyre, 53, a retired Buffalo firefighter. “I’m not union-funded. I’m not charter-funded. I’m the Bernie Sanders of the group running on people power.”

• Paulette Woods, Central District – Woods, 63, a senior budget examiner for the Erie County Probation Department, suggested that the City of Buffalo contribute more to the school district budget.

• Theresa A. Harris-Tigg, East District – Harris-Tigg, 61, incumbent and an assistant professor of English education at SUNY Buffalo State. On parent involvement: “It doesn’t mean they all have to join the PTA. … When they are preparing the children for school they are involved.”

• Colleen E. Russell, East District – Russell, 36, is the parent facilitator at Discovery School in Lovejoy. She expressed her support for the opt-out movement and said she could work with the superintendent if elected to the board. “I can’t really say anything negative. I like his implementation plan he has put forward.”

• Patricia A. Elliott, East District – Elliott, 47, is assistant director of Community Action Organization. She said that there needs to be more diversity among teachers to reflect the district’s demographics and that cultural training would just be “a Band-Aid.”

• Sharon M. Belton-Cottman, Ferry District – Belton-Cottman, 60, is the only candidate unopposed, but is wary of a write-in candidacy. She said she was looking forward to an opponent to prove her record on the board.

• Hope R. Jay, North District – Jay, 47, an attorney, said her focus would be smaller class sizes and improving attendance and parent involvement.

• Jennifer L. Mecozzi, West District – Mecozzi, 44, a PUSH Buffalo organizer, is running against Sampson. She is not in favor of the state’s new receivership law or using state tests to evaluate teachers.

• Harig, Park District – A senior at Hutchinson-Central Technical School, he said he’s running to provide the view of the students, who don’t have a voice on the board right now.