It’s not the super blood wolf moon eclipse, but there’s an event taking place this spring that happens just once every 15 years: All nine members of the Buffalo School Board will be up for re-election.
A year in which all six district seats and three at-large seats are at stake gives citizens the chance to deliver a vote of confidence for the board’s performance, or – as the saying goes – to throw the rascals out.
We’ve stated in previous editorials the importance of voter participation, which seldom, if ever, tops 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. Moving the date of the election from May to June would help, but it’s still up to voters to inform themselves about who is running and show up at the polls. The School Board each year votes on a budget that tops $1 billion, which is more than the general budget for city government.
There will be plenty of time to consider individual candidates, be they incumbents or newcomers, once campaign season gets under way. But there are some general principles worth holding in mind when voting time approaches.
One is that, in the big picture, discord and disharmony are not themselves worthy goals, but the board should have some independent voices that aren’t beholden to special interest groups, including the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
Several board members loyal to teachers union President Philip Rumore and an opposition bloc have been in on and off states of war in the past few years. Tensions peaked in the battle over removing Carl Paladino from the board, which happened in 2017.
Some creative tension is to be expected and teachers are major stakeholders in the education process who need to have their interests and concerns articulated. At the same time, their voices should not be amplified to such a degree that the voices of students, parents and taxpayers fade in the background.
The Buffalo Public Schools also need a board that supports Superintendent Kriner Cash and his New Education Bargain. Cash’s agenda, which focuses on rigor in early elementary education and innovative new high schools, among other areas, has been moving the needle of progress since Cash took the reins in 2015.
There’s a long way to go – student test scores, graduation rates and basic proficiency in reading and math need to keep climbing – but there have been tangible gains, including the announcement this month that more than twice as many Buffalo public schools are in good standing with the State Education Department compared to three years ago.
The new board will be tasked with deciding whether to give Cash a contract extension. His current deal ends in August 2020.
“Some people don’t have the ability to take a good idea and let it grow to where they want it to be,” Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes told The News this month. “Dr. Cash has that ability.”
The best School Board candidates, whether up for re-election or challenging for a seat, are the ones who can best articulate a concern for putting students’ needs first. There are citizen activists in Buffalo, such as Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, who have shown a talent for speaking up for what is best for raising the level of expectations and performance in the schools. Radford is exactly the kind of person the School Board needs, and the city could use others like him to challenge authority when needed and keep education here on the upswing.