This time around, there would be no expensive School Board race, no knocking on doors or a potentially ugly campaign with candidates airing opponents’ dirty laundry.
And this time, the latest turmoil involving the Buffalo Board of Education provides extra motivation to jump in rather scaring candidates off.
Those are a couple of explanations for why a surprising number of people – 15, down from 19 originally – applied for the vacant seat on the board to replace ousted Board Member Carl P. Paladino.
At least some of the candidates interviewing for Paladino’s Park District seat said they felt compelled to represent South Buffalo following Paladino’s inflammatory remarks about former President Barrack Obama and his wife, which gave the community a public black eye and started the push to have the state education commissioner remove him.
They want to help repair any bitter feelings lingering in the community.
“I think it forced a lot of people to realize they have to be a little more active than they used to be,” said Christopher Stadler.
Stadler is among the applicants who went through the vetting process that was carried out for two nights last week and that continues Monday, when the board could make a selection.
Besides Stadler, a systems analyst, the call for applicants brought out a wide variety of candidates not seen during the last board election, when a total of 12 ran for six seats.
For some, this is their first time seeking public office. Some are parents, others are not. The candidates range in age from 19 to 72 and include a retired school administrator, a drywall finisher, a child psychologist, a driving-school instructor, a lawyer, a job counselor, a financial adviser, a nurse, a recent high school graduate and two former School Board presidents, including Donald Van Every.
“They’re interested not just in South Buffalo, but they want to see the city succeed,” Van Every said, in reference to the collection of candidates.
It’s not unusual for the board to appoint someone to fill a vacant seat, Van Every said, but this time is different.
“The process was much more visible this time than any other time in the past,” he said after his candidate interview with the board Thursday. “Everything has been front-page news because of who Carl is.”
The eight members of the board need to select someone to fill the ninth seat by Sept. 15 or else the mayor will make the appointment.
Nineteen people applied for the position, but one was ineligible ,and three have withdrawn since last week.
These are the 15 candidates:
- Kevin Becker, 53, a longtime substitute and temporary teacher in Buffalo schools who has experience coaching youth sports and working as a driving instructor in more than a dozen local districts. He has pledged to work cooperatively with the rest of the board.
- Adam Bojak, 34, an attorney for a Rochester law firm who has been looking for an opportunity to become more involved in the city he has lived in for the past seven years. He not only wants to help mend the divisions on the board, but he wants to devote more time to talking with students about problems in the schools.
- Kevin Buczak, 50, a Canisius College graduate and drywall finisher for Mandon Building Systems who is active in his South Buffalo neighborhood block club. He is scheduled to interview before the board Monday.
- Rachel Casey, 34, an employment counselor for the Erie County Department of Social Services with a son entering pre-K next year.
She says the big issue for the district is building confidence in the schools, so families don't bolt for the suburbs. She points out her experience dealing with union contracts while serving on the negotiating committee for CSEA Local 815.
- Catherine Flanagan-Priore, 43, a pediatric psychologist at Women and Children’s Hospital, where she provides evaluations and support to children being treated in the hematology/oncology unit. She spoke about the need to focus on early childhood literacy, raise high school graduation rates and try to bring charter school families back into the district.
- Austin Harig, 19, who as a student at Hutchinson Central Technical High School lost to Paladino by a slim margin during last year’s School Board elections. Harig now works as a liability adjuster for Geico while taking some classes at SUNY Buffalo State. He says he brings the student perspective to the board, having just graduated in 2016.
- Timothy Hartigan, 52, a Dartmouth College graduate who earned his doctorate from the University at Buffalo and owns a small consulting business. His background is in English as a second language instruction, previously heading up programs at Gannon University and Medaille College. He is scheduled to interview Monday.
- Kevin Lafferty, 37, who was the first to throw his hat into the ring. Lafferty ran unsuccessfully for the School Board in 2003 and for the Common Council in 2012. He is a credit manager at B&L Wholesaler, his wife is a teacher at South Buffalo Charter School and he has a daughter who attends Pre-K in the district. Lafferty is not a proponent of state testing and has been critical of charter schools.
- Carolette Meadows, 47, a mother of two children and a licensed nurse who works in payroll processing at Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
A vocal parent activist involved in the district, Meadows has been among those calling for changes to entry into the city's criteria-based schools amid complaints of racial discrimination. She interviews Monday.
- Louis Petrucci, 52, who is well-versed in Buffalo schools, having served on the School Board between 2007 and 2013, including time as board president. He was the last to represent the Park District prior to Paladino. He serves as assistant director for the Department of Permit and Inspection Services for the City of Buffalo. He interviews Monday.
- Patrick Phelan, 66, who worked as former director of labor relations for Buffalo schools during the 1990s and served as assistant superintendent for human resources in the West Seneca Central School District for 16 years. He retired in 2015, but he still is employed part-time by Erie I BOCES. He supports duplicating City Honors School and says charter schools are an important part of school choice for parents, but he wishes charter funding wouldn't take away from districts' funding. His wife is a former teacher and retired principal.
- Christopher Stadler, 35, a graduate of Hutchinson Central Technical High School, works as a senior systems analyst for the Western New York Regional Information Center, a data warehouse for area school districts. He supports the expansion of charter schools, believes in using social media to engage more district parents and says the No. 1 problem for the district is tackling student poverty in the schools.
- Lisa Truilizio, 52, an administrative assistant at Cystic Fibrosis Center of Western New York and the mother of three children who attend or attended Buffalo schools. She believes student attendance is the district’s No. 1 problem, an issue that has to be addressed with parent involvement.
- Donald Van Every, 67, who served on the Buffalo School Board for 12 years between 1992 and 2007, including a term as president in the mid-1990s. He feels Kriner Cash is the most capable superintendent the district has had in years, but he says the big issue is gaining the confidence of a public that is skeptical that Buffalo schools are run effectively. He retired in 2016 as a director at Erie County Department of Social Services and stands ready to take on as much responsibility as the board wants to give him.
- Edwin Williams, 72, founder of Real Estate Capital Advisors. He is only looking to serve out the remainder of the term and would donate his board stipend to charity. He stressed his strong willingness to collaborate with members of the board.