Two candidates are running for the Central District seat on the Buffalo Board of Education in the May 7 election. The Central District encompasses primarily the city’s East Side but goes as far west as Allentown and as far south as the Cobblestone District. This year’s race is a rematch between incumbent Mary Ruth Kapsiak and challenger Bryon McIntyre. In 2010, Kapsiak won the seat by a margin of 211 votes out of 1,142 cast.
Mary Ruth Kapsiak, the Buffalo Board of Education president who represents the Central District, believes her concern for education and accomplishments warrant another three-year term.
Kapsiak said she’s well aware the board has been criticized for failing to do more to elevate school performance, but she suggested many initiatives are headed in the right direction – and she wants to help implement them.
“There are initiatives I have been a part of that I would like to see come to fruition. I would like to see, within the next three years, our scores go up. I feel I spent six years on the School Board, and there are so many things on the table that need to be finished, and I would like to help with that,” Kapsiak said.
Kapsiak, 71, who has served two terms on the board, spent 26 years as a commercial representative for NYNEX Corp. before entering the workforce in education.
She was a substitute teacher for six years, beginning in 1990. Later, she worked for two years each as a special-education and reading teacher before becoming an assistant principal and later supervisor of elementary education.
Kapsiak earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from the University at Buffalo, a master’s degree in exceptional education from SUNY Buffalo State and a master’s in reading and school district administration from Canisius College.
Her two children, and one who is deceased, attended schools in Buffalo and Kenmore.
“I offer my experience on the board and my background in education, [where] the fields I concentrated on were areas of need,” Kapsiak said.
Her educational background, she said, covers “key areas that we need to focus on in order to make sure we are improving our schools, because special-ed students are not exempt from the testing that has to be done.”
Kapsiak said her top accomplishments on the board were helping to bring to Buffalo Say Yes to Education, the initiative promising a free college education to all students who qualify, as well as expanding career and technical education and helping put parent facilitators in schools.
She wants to continue to advocate for expanding pre-K education, teacher development and training, and development opportunities in special education and classroom management.
In addition, Kapsiak said she wants to continue to expand the district’s career and technical education programs.
She believes teachers shouldn’t be required to live in the city, maintaining a policy she and the board put in place last year.
“My feeling is if a teacher can teach these children, I don’t care where they come from. Let them come in and teach,” Kapsiak said.
She is in favor of reinstating neighborhood schools, she doesn’t support increasing charter schools because of inequity in funding, and she doesn’t think city taxpayers should contribute more money to district schools.
Kapsiak also said she thought the key to student achievement in Buffalo’s public schools is “to create a safe and nurturing environment,” and she believes Superintendent Pamela C. Brown is on the right track.
She was critical of Distinguished Educator Judy Elliot for not initially sharing a critical report about the Buffalo Public Schools with the board, saying she had “very mixed feelings about the report and its outcomes.”
The Buffalo Teachers Federation Political Action Committee gave Kapsiak $500 of the $700 she has reported so far for her re-election. She has also received the support of Citizen Action.
Bryon J. McIntyre sees himself as an agent for change in the Buffalo Public Schools.
The lifelong city resident credits education with helping him pull his life together after he admittedly spent his late teenage and early adult years in a destructive haze of drugs and alcohol.
“Education was my deliverance. Education is the vehicle to come out of whatever bondage you’re in. It doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it guarantees you an opportunity,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre, 50, wants to increase the ranks of students for whom education can lead to a brighter future. Doing so, he says, depends on increasing the number of high school graduates, including the numbers of African-American and Latino males who, he frequently notes, drop out at a rate of more than 70 percent.
The retired firefighter, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from SUNY Buffalo State, is first vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council and a former president of the Performing Arts Parent-Teacher Organization. To add a Board of Education seat to that resumé will mean that the McKinley High School graduate will have to unseat incumbent Mary Ruth Kapsiak, the current board president.
He was also a substitute teacher in the district for over eight years, until about two years ago, an experience he contends puts him more in touch with the daily problems of parents, faculty, students and administrators.
“In the years since [Kapsiak] has been there, has the Central District improved? Has the district improved? No. Is the community more informed about what needs to be done, what types of support are needed? No.
“I have an investment in the system. I don’t have employees in the system, I have children, McIntyre said, referring to three of his children who attend public school – Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, Frederick Law Olmsted School 156 and Stanley G. Falk School, as well as Health Science Charter School.
McIntyre, a member of the district’s Title I Committee, the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee and a parent advocate at suspension hearings, has the support of Citizen Action, for whom he is a past vice president.
He is a strong believer in reinstating the residency rule for teachers. Only two firefighters at his firehouse lived in the city, which he believed contributed to a “different mindset and cultural disconnect.”
He favors a return to neighborhood schools to encourage parent participation and erase inequities he says are perpetuated by a lack of transportation available to people of limited financial means. McIntyre also looks favorably on charter schools, a reversal of the position he took when he was an active member of Citizen Action.
“I thought charter schools were the devil. Well, I have a child in Buffalo Health Sciences Charter, in the 10th grade. If Bozo the Clown could teach my children, I would have Bozo the Clown. It’s every parent’s right to have a choice, and to place their child where they think their child will best thrive,” McIntyre said.
He is also highly supportive of Superintendent Pamela C. Brown, whom he praises for being responsive to parents and for acting with transparency.
“I like to refer to Dr. Brown as the ‘Condoleezza Rice of education,’ because Condoleezza was, in my opinion, highly intelligent and was about her business. And that’s what I think the superintendent is,” McIntyre said. “At the end of her meetings, problems are solved or on their way to a rational solution, which we haven’t had in quite some time, in my opinion.”
He believes that board rules and regulations are often overlooked and that Title I dollars to help low-achieving students have been misused. The School Board, he says, has fallen short on the job.
“I’m very dissatisfied with the job it’s done this far. I believe the intentions are there, but there is a certain disconnect,” McIntyre said. “I know Buffalo is on the rise, and with what we have going on, we have to have our children educated.”
McIntyre said he expected to pay for his campaign out-of-pocket, while Kapsiak, his opponent, is receiving contributions from the Buffalo Teachers Federation.