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Voter guide: It's Election Day for Buffalo schools. Here's what you need to know

For the first time in 15 years, Buffalo voters on Tuesday will pick candidates for all nine seats on the Board of Education. Incumbents in the Central, Ferry, North and West districts are running unopposed.

Here is a rundown on candidates for three-year terms in the East and Park districts and for three five-year terms as an at-large member.

The School Board oversees a $1.1 billion budget. The position pays $5,000 per year. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at normal polling locations.

EAST DISTRICT

Candidate: Patricia A. Elliott

Age: 50

Patricia A. Elliott. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Occupation: Program coordinator and assistant director for Community Action Organization of Western New York.

Background: A vice president for  District Parent Coordinating Council, a parent group; one of the parents who filed a civil rights claim against the school district in 2013; ran unsuccessfully for the board in 2016; has three grown children and a fourth who is a senior at Health Sciences Charter School.

Priorities:

Eliminating out-of-school suspensions, which she calls a major problem; increasing diversity in the teaching ranks; and providing greater access to advanced courses.

Budget should allocate resources to schools equitably as opposed to equally, so students with greater needs get a greater share.

What she says about:

New teachers contract: Growing cost of retiree health care needs to be addressed. Contract needs to hold teachers more accountable for student growth or decline. Should include a baseline number of teachers of different races and ethnicities.

Superintendent Kriner Cash’s performance: He is doing a “phenomenal” job and School Board should extend his contract by making him an offer “he cannot refuse.” However, would like him to do more to address the civil rights complaint urging that more black and Hispanic students be admitted to City Honors.

Backing: District Parent Coordinating Council

•••

Kathy Evans-Brown. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Candidate: Kathy Evans-Brown

Age: 64

Occupation: Project coordinator for Buffalo Urban League; adjunct instructor at Empire State College conducting student evaluations

Background: First run for elected office; earned a bachelor’s degree in human services from Medaille College and a master’s in student personnel administration from SUNY Buffalo State; former substitute teacher; worked with at-risk youth as a child protection worker and a former director with non-profit Child and Family Services; has five grown children, all of whom attended Buffalo Public Schools.

Priorities:

• Improving the graduation rate and increasing diversity in the teaching ranks.

• Budget needs to ensure equity among schools, funding for Pre-K programs and additional reading teachers to help students struggling prior to high school.

What she says about:

Lowering school suspensions: District seems to be making strides in the area of restorative practices, but consistency on a daily basis is critical for it to work in the classroom.

Superintendent Kriner Cash’s performance: “Good.” His New Education Bargain reform initiative is working, although Brown wants to see district's graduation rate of 64 percent reach 85 percent.

Backing: Endorsed by Buffalo Teachers Federation. Encouraged to run by current East District Board Member Theresa Harris-Tigg, who is not seeking re-election.

PARK DISTRICT

Austin Harig. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Candidate: Austin Harig

Age: 21

Occupation: Geico auto claims adjuster

Background: A 2016 graduate of Hutchinson Central Technical High School; narrowly lost Park District race three years ago to Carl Paladino, the same year he faced allegations of assault and underage drinking, charges that ultimately were dropped; filed lawsuit against the city for false arrest. Has four siblings who attend Buffalo Public Schools.

Priorities:

• Addressing lack of family engagement and disproportionate distribution of resources.

• Budgetary focus on bolstering support services for students and career and technical programs, and improving the community schools model, which provide after-school and Saturday services for families.

What he says about:

New teachers contract: Teachers should receive raises, but district should have more control over teacher assignments and discipline.

Superintendent Kriner Cash’s performance: Has done a good job guiding a turbulent district to better outcomes. While there is still much to be desired, Cash’s "New Education Bargain" reform initiative should continue to prove successful for students.

Backing: No major endorsements.

•••

Lou Petrucci. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Candidate: Lou Petrucci

Age: 54

Occupation: Assistant director, Department of Permits and Inspection Services for City of Buffalo

Background: City Honors School graduate, Hilbert College master’s in public administration; served on  School Board from 2007 to 2013, including time as board president. Appointed in 2018 to fill Park District vacancy. Four daughters graduated from City Honors.

Priorities:

• Settling Buffalo teachers contract, which expires in June; retaining Superintendent Kriner Cash, whose contract expires in 2020; providing quality education for those subgroups of kids “presently not achieving at the rate we know they are capable of.”

• Resolving other outstanding contracts, lowering class sizes, offering more advanced placement courses and maintaining programs, like art, music and physical education.

What he says about:

• New teachers contract: Language needs to be simplified and district should gain back some managerial rights.

• Cash’s performance: Very good; has brought vision, consistency and goal-driven environment to district; but can also be insular and fails to inform board before making announcements that impact members.

Backing: Endorsed by Buffalo Teachers Federation and Western New York Area Labor Federation.

AT-LARGE CANDIDATES

Jeffrey M. Conrad. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Candidate: Jeffrey Conrad

Age: 40

Occupation: Director of workforce and education, Catholic Charities of Buffalo

Background: Graduate of Empire State College; South District Common Council member in 2005; in Catholic Charities job, concerned about graduates being able to meet minimum reading and math standards for advanced manufacturing jobs in Buffalo. Has two children at Park School of Buffalo.

Priorities:

• Raising math and English proficiency, ensuring equitable funding across schools and increasing student access to career and technical programs.

• Financially, worries district is too reliant on annual state increases at a time fiscal outlook is precarious; wants to maintain healthy reserve fund, settle expired union contracts and identify savings that can be passed along to the classroom.

What he says about:

• New teachers contract: Declined to talk specifics in case it could compromise negotiations; did not seek Buffalo Teachers Federation endorsement in order to remain independent in contract year.

• Superintendent Kriner Cash’s performance: “Fair,” has been very “community facing” and his attention to issues like street violence and community partnership are important, but district still has not moved needle enough on graduation, math and literacy rates.

Backing: No major endorsements.

•••

Timothy J. Hartigan. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Candidate: Timothy J. Hartigan

Age: 53

Occupation: Small business owner specializing in copy-editing dissertations.

Background: Doctorate from the University at Buffalo; former high school English teacher who spent time in Thailand with Peace Corps; also teaches literacy at Medaille College and is a faculty coach at Bryant & Stratton College. Unsuccessfully sought to fill Park District vacancies on board in 2017 and 2018.

Priorities:

• Long- and short-term goals include improving literacy rates, extending contract for Superintendent Kriner Cash, reaching a new contract with Buffalo Teachers Federation and addressing low graduation rates and high dropout rates for refugee and immigrant students.

• Wants to hire more counselors and bilingual teachers, if that can be done at reasonable cost.

What he says about:

• New teachers contract: Would like to see district save on growing cost of retiree health insurance and enable veteran teachers to reach top scale faster.

• Cash’s performance: “Good;" graduation rates are rising while Cash's “New Education Bargain” reform agenda is written in “clear and easy to understand language.” Much more needs to be done to help immigrant students succeed in school.

Backing: No major endorsements.

•••

Terrance Heard. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Candidate: Terrance L. Heard

Age: 49

Occupation: General Motors assistant team leader.

Background: Criminal justice degree from Hilbert College; worked as probation and corrections officer with Georgia Department of Corrections; was a Buffalo teacher early in career; ran unsuccessfully for Common Council in 2015. Has five children, including a son at Bennett High School.

Priorities:

• Raising graduation rates, lowering suspensions and ensuring district's fiscal health; also wants to change the climate of schools and has proposed an adopt-a-school program that would partner with organizations and institutions in the community.

• Settling new contracts with the Buffalo Teachers Federation and Superintendent Kriner Cash, as well as funding Cash’s reform initiatives.

What he says about:

• New teachers contract: Wants lower class sizes, competitive pay for teachers and policies to ensure restorative practices are being followed in schools to reduce suspensions.

• Cash’s performance: Has done good job after walking into tough situation, but “there are still a lot of items that need to be improved.”

Backing: Endorsed by Buffalo Teachers Federation.

•••

Jack Kavanaugh.

Candidate: Jack Kavanaugh

Age: 29

Occupation: Western New York Director of Program Development for Mentor New York

Background: Graduate of City Honors School with master’s in social work from University at Buffalo. Works for non-profit that provides training and assistance to support mentoring programs for kids. Making first run for elected office.

Priorities:

• Raising graduation rate and lowering suspension rate, which disproportionately impacts students of color; addressing Superintendent Kriner Cash’s contract, which expires in 2020, and the eventual transition of district leadership.

• District budget should include more social workers, counselors and psychologists to provide emotional support needed by students; school system needs to seek additional grants and press City of Buffalo for more funding.

What he says about:

New teachers contract: Starting salaries need to be increased to help lure young talent; rising cost of health care needs to be shared.

Cash’s performance: “Good,” biggest success has been implementing structures, like developing new high schools and providing additional services to families after school and on Saturdays; 65 percent graduation rate is still troublesome.

Backing: No major endorsements.

•••

Carolette Meadows. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Candidate: Carolette Meadows

Age: 49

Occupation: Nurse, Veteran Affairs Medical Center

Background: Community activist, has spoken out on health and environmental issues; one of the parents who filed a civil rights complaint against the school district in 2013; unsuccessfully sought  to fill vacancy on School Board in 2017 and 2018; has a son who graduated from Buffalo Public Schools and a daughter who attends Hutch Tech.

Priorities:

• Providing students more access to high-performing schools; giving more support to students learning English as a new language; allowing greater teacher autonomy to differentiate classroom lessons.

• More funding should be directed to English language learners, to increasing mental health services for kids and hiring a more diverse teaching staff to help lower class sizes.

What she says about:

Opening more seats for students of color at City Honors: District needs to implement all the changes previously recommended by a civil rights expert; also needs to improve academic outcomes for kids on East and West sides so they are more prepared to compete for seats at City Honors.

Superintendent Kriner Cash’s performance: “Fair.” He proclaimed the district has turned around because more schools are in “good standing,” but graduation rate is still only 64 percent.

Backing: No major endorsements.

•••

Desmond Nalls. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Candidate: Desmond Nalls

Age: 41

Occupation: Sign fabricator for city’s Public Works Department

Background: Two-year degree; former Masten District Democratic committeeman; involved with District Parent Coordinating Council, a parent group. Has four children, two of them at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. Making first run for elected office.

Priorities:

• District’s low graduation rates and low proficiency in math and English, along with its high rate of suspensions, specifically for students of color.

• Main budget objective is settling contract for teachers and teacher aides; addressing Superintendent Kriner Cash’s contract, which expires in 2020.

What he says about:

More charter schools in Buffalo: Not in favor unless there are requirements to foster a better relationship with Buffalo Public Schools.

Cash’s performance: “Good,” has an awareness of important issues that face district students, parents and teachers. Nalls raises concern about a succession plan.

Backing: No major endorsements.

•••

Ann Rivera. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Candidate: Ann Rivera

Age: 47

Occupation: Associate English professor at Villa Maria College

Background: College educator for 23 years and advocate for students with special needs, serving as chair of the district’s Special Education Parents Advisory Committee. Has daughter at Olmsted 156 and son who graduated from City Honors through its program for students with autism. Making first run for elected office.

Priorities:

• Supporting the social and emotional needs of students; bolstering academic curriculum across schools to better prepare kids for college or career; special and bilingual education.

• Fiscal priorities include streamlining district operations so more money can be directed to the classroom; wants district to pursue more grants and partnerships to support initiatives and innovative programs.

What she says about:

• Teachers contract: Wants equitable pay based on experience, credentials and performance, under current evaluation system; wants to find ways to recognize teachers who pursue professional development; but also wants increased work hours and communication with parents.

• Superintendent Kriner Cash’s performance: Has done a “very good job” focusing on needs of students and rebuilding district’s relationship with the community, but more work needed managing employees and improving relationship with board.

Backing: Endorsed by Buffalo Teachers Federation and Western New York Area Labor Federation.

•••

School board candidate, Larry Scott

Candidate: Larry Scott

Age: 42

Occupation: School psychologist, Ken-Ton school district

Background: Master's in school psychology from Rochester Institute of Technology; co-chairs Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization, which he co-founded in 2014; a specialist in alternatives to suspensions, which would be a focus as a board member. Has two children at School 81.

Priorities:

• Besides reducing suspension rates, ensuring equity in staffing, resources and programming across schools; providing reliable, timely transportation for students.

• Budget priorities include lowering class sizes, adding mental health workers and sustaining community schools, which provide services to families after school and on Saturdays.

What he says about:

• Teachers contract: wants cap on class sizes lowered; fewer steps for teachers to reach top pay; designated times for parent conferences.

• Superintendent Kriner Cash: "Excellent," and has demonstrated "stable and inspirational" leadership and a "clear and methodical" vision for  district, but some cost-cutting has adversely impacted students.

Backing: Endorsed by Buffalo Teachers Federation and Western New York Area Labor Federation. Supported by many current School Board members.

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