City residents vying for seats on the Buffalo School Board offered varied opinions on topics from the efficacy of charter schools to the performance of Superintendent Pamela Brown during a turgid but still tense candidates forum Thursday in the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
The two-hour forum, sponsored by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists, was mostly devoid of overt attacks on the current members of the School Board. That is, until West District candidate James Sampson, responding to a question about Brown’s performance as superintendent, turned the query around to shine a light on the performance of the current board.
“I think that Dr. Brown is doing a good job. She’s obviously very well qualified,” said Sampson.
“Too often we try to put the responsibility on one individual when I think we have to ask the question: Is the board doing their job? And I would suggest they’re not, and that’s why we’ve got so much interest in this race,” he added.
Ten of the 14 announced candidates vying for six district seats on the nine-member board showed up for Thursday’s forum. During her two-minute introductory remarks, Ferry District School Board member Sharon Belton-Cottman alluded to the challenges of the job.
“You have to have a passion to sit on the Board of Education … but the criticisms are harsh,” Belton-Cotton said.
“For some reason, everyday citizens are expected to fix the problems that exist inside the homes of the children,” she added.
All of the candidates offered their individual prescriptions for improving the academic outcomes of students in the district while working to better allocate resources and improve student attendance that all sounded vaguely similar.
Members of the School Board, including Belton-Cottman, Central District member and board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak and West District member Ralph Hernandez, were uniformly against charter schools, which they all described as a liability for the district.
“For those that feel that charter schools are the cat’s meow, guess what? We’re getting the children back on a regular basis that are not successful in the charter schools. They do not have the proper programs for children with learning disabilities,” said Belton-Cottman.
“Obviously, as a trustee of a charter school, I think they are great assets,” said Sampson, who sits on the board of at least one local charter school.
Other candidates participating in Thursday’s forum were Bryon McIntyre and Joseph Mascia, Central District candidates; Theresa Harris-Tigg, an East District candidate; Wendy Mistretta and Sue Gillick, both candidates for the North District seat; Adrian Harris, a Park District candidate.