A changing of the board

Board of Education elections usher in new majority, new hope for progress

Dramatic change is in store for the Buffalo Board of Education. But as the newly elected members of the board settled into their seats on July 1, they joined a group still recovering from a nearly two-month transitional period mired in disagreement and debate.

Buffalo’s Board of Education, which oversees policy-making for the city’s public schools, held its election May 6 to fill three of nine positions on the board. The election generated record-breaking fundraising by its candidates and drew 58 percent more voters than the previous year’s vote, indicating the public’s dissatisfaction with the current school board, which has been marked by divides along gender and racial lines and plagued by a lack of cooperation among board members.

Current Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold held her seat, with new members Larry Quinn and Patti Bowers Pierce joining the Board. These additions upset the majority, which supported Superintendent Pamela C. Brown.

Now, with a new majority taking over, major changes are on the way, as the board pursues an agenda supporting the creation of charter schools. The move stands in stark opposition with the former majority’s policies, which promote traditional schools and focus on improving existing schools that are struggling rather than creating new institutions.

While charter schools are lauded for their ability to allow students to rapidly leave low-performing schools, they can also distract from the larger-scale problems caused by poverty. These schools offer one solution among many problems, and should be viewed as only one step among a multitude of policy changes needed to improve Buffalo’s schools.

In addition to these new policies, the board will be seeking a new superintendent, after Brown tendered her resignation in late May.

Throughout her almost two years as superintendent, Brown maintained the support of only a slim majority of the board, and many members of the public are eager to see her replaced, associating her with an inefficient board distracted by internal division. The board is supposed to serve the Buffalo community, and most importantly the children attending the city’s schools, but as discontented voters and parents acknowledge, that hasn’t been accomplished under Brown’s leadership.

Brown’s resignation follows the firing of former Superintendent James A. Williams, who was let go in a drawn-out process as the board spent several months debating legal issues. Williams’ contract guaranteed him six months’ severance pay ($110,000). He eventually “retired” with a $130,000 payout. Browns’ contract has a similar clause, entitling her to one year of severance pay, or $217,500.

Though the majority of the board will be pleased to see Brown leave – as they feel she is not a competent leader – these two unsuccessful superintendents have cost the school district $337,500, suggesting that greater caution is needed in selecting candidates for this position in the first place. The extremely generous severance clauses need to be reconsidered in the future as well. Paying individuals hundreds of thousands of dollars simply to leave their positions is highly misguided.

Now, a divided board must work together to find a new superintendent – hopefully one who can lead effectively and stay in office for an entire term. A strong leader is needed to unite this board, and the district can’t afford to pay off yet another early departure if they end up regretting their decision.

As our schools struggle to attain funding to provide students with the education they deserve, any funds directed away from Buffalo students, especially money used to essentially fund a “redo” is irresponsible and wasteful. The board, with a new majority and renewed focus, need to right the wrongs of previous years and hire a leader who can earn the trust and support of the Buffalo community – and avoid earning any severance pay along the way.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com