Buffalo school district should reject the status quo and choose mayoral control

Move for mayoral control of school board a risky proposition but would bring welcome change

With constant bickering, resignations and terminations in recent years, the Buffalo School Board has seemed ineffective at best.

Buffalo’s public schools already face a multitude of obstacles, including high dropout rates, poor attendance and subpar test scores.

Moreover, the schools’ populations are predominated by students who face their own challenges, including unstable living situations, poverty, special needs and speaking English as a second language.

An incompetent school board is yet another problem heaped upon an already disadvantaged school district.

But the problem of an unaccomplished school board has a far simpler solution – or potential solution – than the more complex and insidious issues that have plagued Buffalo schools’ productivity for years.

After a period of what Buffalo lawmakers described as “total chaos” on the school board, local politicians are pushing for mayoral control over the school district and introducing legislation in Albany to accomplish this.

This sort of change in leadership, which would put Mayor Byron Brown in charge of the district, requires approval from the New York State Senate and the Assembly.

And at this point, anyone in Buffalo who is invested in the city’s educational reform should root for the legislation to pass.

Brown’s attitude toward the suggestion has been promising. It’s notable that this was not his idea – he didn’t seek out this increase in power, but is willing to shoulder the burden that the change would bring.

Brown has proved himself to be a passionate and dedicated leader and he could be counted on to breathe new life into the supervision of Buffalo’s schools.

Even more importantly, Brown’s presence could institute a level of organization and control that has been sorely lacking in recent years, as internal strife and incompetence has instead been dominant.

And it’s reassuring that this move is not unprecedented.

The suggestion of mayoral control was likely inspired by a similar policy that is in effect in New York City, where former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was put in charge of the city’s schools. Mayor Bill de Blasio, since his election last year, now runs the district.

As detailed by The Buffalo News, the switch to mayoral control transformed the city’s schools for the better, with graduation rates reaching the highest in 10 years, dropout rates falling and test scores rising.

With mayoral control in place, New York City’s school system experienced dramatic and efficient reform – precisely the kind of rapid and decisive change that Buffalo’s district needs and has been profoundly lacking.

Other struggling school districts, however, like those in Detroit and Cleveland have tried similar policies and failed to see improvement.

If Brown takes over, his level of commitment will determine the success of this change. It will be critical that the model provided by New York City is closely examined and modified to fit Buffalo’s demographics and needs.

But even though this solution is far from a guarantee of success, it’s clear that the status quo is not working. Buffalo’s public schools deserve a fresh start and a period of reform. With a new leader at the helm, this sort of improvement would be far more achievable.

The Editorial Board can be reached at editorial@ubspectrum.com