The future direction of the Buffalo School Board could depend heavily on the outcome of a single race – the Central District contest pitting parent advocate Bryon J. McIntyre against Paulette Woods, a youth advocate and county manager.
The two candidates, both of whom are running for the seat being vacated by minority bloc member Mary Ruth Kapsiak, profess independent viewpoints and a refusal to be beholden to a single slate of special interest positions for either the current board majority or the teachers union.
“I find as I get older that if you don’t march to folks’ drumbeat, they soon cut you off,” said McIntyre, vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “My interest is working with the children.”
Similarly, Woods said she is “unbought and unbossed,” though she has the endorsement of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
“Nobody’s going to get a free pass from me,” she said.
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Their positions reflect a very diverse district, which cuts through the heart of the city, encompassing all of downtown, Allentown, waterfront condominiums and poverty-stricken sections of the East and Lower West sides.
But there is no way to know how these two candidates would vote when the chips are down. Ultimately, they could align regularly with the current majority or the minority blocs on controversial and difficult issues, or they could become a key building block for a more centrist position and become swing voters on issues that divide both sides.
Who they are
McIntyre, a longtime parent advocate who has spent 15 years pushing for change in the school district and representing children with special needs, said he has a long history of working with people from all sides, though he would not be considered a friend of the teachers union now.
He is the only child of a single mother, who watched his cousins leave school and get thrown in jail as products of the poor, deep South. McIntyre graduated from McKinley High School and became a U.S. Marine. He later went on to earn his associate’s degree from Erie Community College and his bachelor’s from SUNY Buffalo State.
But not before getting caught in a web of drug addiction and alcoholism, which left him sleeping on the streets because he was too ashamed to go home to his mother, he said.
“She raised me better,” said McIntyre, 53.
His education and faith in God saved him, he said, and has continued to carry him forward.
As vice president with the District Parent Coordinating Council and chairman of the district’s Special Education Advisory Committee, McIntyre says he’s the only candidate who has both rubbed elbows with members of the state Board of Regents and tracked down derelict parents in crack houses to get them to sign their children’s special education plans.
He and his wife have nine older children. All but one have attended Buffalo Public Schools. Two still attend district schools, and one has graduated from a charter school.
Woods, meanwhile, grew up as the third oldest in a household with 11 younger brothers and sisters. As a national merit scholar, she tutored most of them and helped shepherd them through high school, she said. Those siblings grew up to be nurses and civil engineers, firefighters and police officers, she said.
“I’ve made as many sacrifices as any parent,” said Woods, 63.
For eight years, Woods served in the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion, part of Special Operations for the U.S. Army Reserves, which helped rebuild Panama and Kuwait and served as a liaison between the military and civilians in war zones and in disaster areas. Woods also served in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1991 and assisted Haitian refugees there.
“If I can go and run a city of 12,000 Haitian migrants, I can make a difference in my own backyard,” she said.
Woods subsequently built a 32-year career with Erie County government, working on the county budget, then serving as a senior budget examiner with the Youth Services Department, and finally the Probation Department. In that role, she said, she built youth programs, including the Citadel of Hope, a nonsecure detention foster home developed in conjunction with Greater Refuge Temple.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Canisius College and a master’s degree in applied public affairs from the University at Buffalo.
Who backs Woods
It is hard to tell who the candidates would side with on the Buffalo School Board from their public statements. Both profess to be beholden to no one but the parents and children of the district.
But Woods enjoys the endorsement of the Buffalo Teachers Federation and heavy-hitting Democratic leaders like George K. Arthur and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, who now serves as her campaign manager. She also belongs to a tight-knit social group of professional African-American women, some of whom currently make up the board minority bloc, and enjoys other community and church support.
She admires the work of board member Barbara Seals Nevergold, a member of the minority bloc, and sides with the minority bloc’s defense of former Superintendent Pamela Brown, whom she believes was not given a fair shake by the board majority. She also is endorsed by Kapsiak, the minority bloc incumbent.
This would suggest she would more closely align with the current board minority, which tends to be more supportive of union positions and the belief that schools need more resources to tackle pervasive community problems that hurt the ability of children to learn.
McIntyre described Woods as a “union puppet” with no past experience in public education issues.
“I think she’s totally clueless and obviously recruited,” he said.
But not everything Woods has said aligns cleanly with a union agenda. For instance, she has expressed support for teachers contributing 20 percent toward their health insurance, believes in a longer school day and longer school year, and supports the expansion of vocational and career-themed charter schools. She also said she’s a big believer in accountability and consequences, something regularly stressed by the board majority.
“No one owns me,” she said, “and no one controls me.”
Who backs McIntyre
McIntyre belongs to the District Parent Coordinating Council, which more typically aligns with the current board majority. He has refused support from the teachers union and has received the endorsement of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the region’s leading business organization, which aligns itself with the board majority and its accountability agenda.
Members of the board majority also appear to have placed greater interest in McIntyre’s race since West District incumbent James M. Sampson, the board president; and East District candidate Colleen E. Russell, were knocked off the ballot. Both were aligned with the board majority bloc and now face difficult write-in campaigns.
McIntyre and many other leaders on the parents council are proponents of an education agenda pushing aggressive structural change and education reform. McIntyre also has been critical of union work rules, which he said have co-opted the district leadership’s ability to promote positive change.
Woods said McIntyre lacks budgetary and management career skills and the education needed to do the School Board job well.
“I’m talking about actual experience developing programs that make a difference to youth,” she said.
McIntyre said his votes will not depend on who is on whose side, but rather the issue at hand. He said he has worked with education leaders pushing both “reform” and “progressive” agendas, and pro- and anti-charter school positions. But he stressed his only focus will be on what helps children best.
“There are things that both sides have done that I don’t really agree with,” he said.
There are a surprising number of issues that both candidates strongly support.
They both believe Superintendent Kriner Cash is doing a good job so far. They both support the district’s push to develop community schools. They both seek smaller class sizes, more reading teachers, extended school time and eliminating certain union perks. They both decry a broken education system that feeds the “school to prison” pipeline.
And both say they believe that choosing sides is less important than weighing the merits of every issue, based on their personal experience and insight.
“To me, it’s very significant that nobody on the board has a child in the district,” McIntyre said. “And no matter what anyone says, when the policies that you are implementing directly impact your kids, it’s different. Now, we like to think everybody is noble and honorable and concerned, but let’s be realistic and true about it. If you have skin in the game, it’s a different game.”
Woods said, “I’m not in favor of confrontation and stalemates. I’m a manager. What can we do to make school more attractive? I don’t see that throwing tons of money is the answer.”