What if there were no Buffalo Board of Education? That’s one of the ideas respondents to a Buffalo News survey floated. They suggested Mayor Byron W. Brown might want to follow in the path laid out by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who got state permission to take over his city school system. The Board of Education was abolished. The schools chancellor – the equivalent of a superintendent – now reports to Bloomberg.
Others suggested a less radical approach: Brown should get control of a few School Board seats so he can influence how school district money is spent and children are educated.
The mayor of Buffalo has no official role in the city’s school system, except to provide the school district with tax revenue the city collects on its behalf. But in the eyes of many survey respondents, that doesn’t let Brown off the hook for the sorry state of city schools.
Brown’s lowest grade in the survey was for education, with half the respondents flunking his leadership in the area, and another 20 percent giving him a D.
“He’s abandoned the schools,” one business leader wrote.
“The No. 1 priority should be fixing the city schools,” wrote one community leader.
Brown declined to be interviewed for these stories, but his office previously provided The Buffalo News with a list of what he’s done for the schools: He named a deputy mayor as liaison to the school district. He co-chairs Say Yes Buffalo, a program that provides college scholarships and classroom support. He cleaned up neighborhoods around schools. He added more resource teachers and now, through a partnership with M&T Bank and Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, will provide more attendance officers. Brown also oversees the ongoing schools reconstruction project, and in his first year in office, increased city aid to the schools.
During Brown’s first mayoral campaign, he indicated he might consider pushing for mayoral control of some School Board seats. There’s no evidence that Brown ever pursued that plan. Then, in 2011, Brown floated the idea of some form of mayoral control during an Albany budget hearing, noting that a “lack of accountability” is one reason school district operations are not more cost effective. But dialogue didn’t advance beyond that.
Mayoral control of the Buffalo School Board is a hot topic in various circles around town, said Peter F. Hunt, president of Hunt Real Estate. Hunt would like to see it happen in Buffalo. But if Brown doesn’t want to advocate for mayoral control, he should advocate for something, Hunt said.
Others warn mayoral control is not a silver bullet. Mayoral control is “a cheap excuse for demanding immediate results,” said Joseph A. Gardella Jr., chairman of the city’s Environmental Management Commission, who is also a University at Buffalo professor. “People are grasping for immediate solutions for problems that have taken 60 years to develop.”
— Jill Terreri and Susan Schulman