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Another Voice: Finding common ground on Buffalo School Board elections

By Philip Rumore

Moving the Buffalo School Board Elections to November would, as in Rochester, allow the political parties to decide who will serve.

In Rochester, political parties have meetings in each of the political subdivisions to decide who should get the recommendation of that party. We are advised that in Rochester, since it is overwhelmingly Democratic, it is almost always only Democrats who get elected to the School Board.

School Board elections in all but two to three districts in New York State were kept separate from the November elections to prevent this politicizing and to allow for greater openness.

Some have pointed to the low voter turnout in the School Board elections. However, in addition to preventing the control of political parties, it is far better to have those making educational decisions be those who care enough about the education of students to go to the polls and vote on school issues.

Some have said May elections allow the “unions" – meaning Buffalo Teachers Federation – to control the outcome. Perhaps they haven't noticed that School Board members have been elected who did not receive our endorsement but who have opposed, criticized and attempted to undermine us.

Also, conveniently overlooked by The Buffalo News and others is the tremendous amount of money from charter schools and other organizations that flowed in to selected School Board candidates' campaigns.

In the at-large School Board elections of Patricia Pearce and Larry Quinn, a coalition of Erie County Republicans, the Northeast Charter Schools Network, Carl Paladino and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership spent over $100,000 on multiple mailings and two door-knocking canvasses to voters in Buffalo.

That coalition also spent more than $150,000 on district races. In addition, another $50,000 was put in to the James Sampson and Jason McCarthy districts the last week of the election by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

In the spirit of looking to find common ground, we suggest moving the Buffalo School Board elections to the same time elections take place in the surrounding districts. In this way, the control of political parties remains diminished and the awareness of the School Board elections is more widespread.

The number of signatures to run for the School Board should be reduced from 500 to 200 for a district seat and from 1,000 to 400 for an at-large seat. In this way, while you need to show that you are serious and can garner support, you don't need a “machine" to obtain the necessary signatures.

While much hyperbole and derisive statements have been directed at the involvement of educators in School Board elections, it is the educators in the schools who are all too often ignored, who know what really needs to be done to improve the education of our students.

Although it’s not publicized, we will continue our advocacy on behalf of our students, whether it be in board elections, in Albany, Washington, or here in Buffalo.

Philip Rumore is president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation

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