After serving on the Buffalo Board of Education for nine years, Ralph Hernandez sees himself as the voice of experience and guardian of the underserved. That’s why he’s running for re-election to his West District seat as a write-in candidate, in what may be his toughest campaign yet.
With schools facing tougher state standards and evaluations, the proliferation of charter schools and the needs of more than 4,000 students with limited English speaking skills, he said, the district needs stability.
“Now, more than ever, there’s no substitute for experience,” he said.
Hernandez, 62, works as a consultant with Healthcare Management Services Organization and previously worked as a consultant and instructor at the Hispanics United of Buffalo human services agency. He’s a graduate of Medaille College and has grown children who attended Lafayette and Bennett high schools.
Hernandez counts among his top accomplishments the championing of educational services for bilingual and limited English speakers, the abolishment of the city residency requirement for teachers and the establishment of the free meals program for all city students regardless of their income status.
He said he has been a strong voice for keeping public schools a welcoming place for all students, not just some.
“Those are noble reasons for me to stay on the board,” he said. “And I like the job. I really do.”
As the representative of a district with a large Hispanic and immigrant population, he recalled his long effort to foster improvements for the district’s English language learners and the eventual creation of the Multilingual Educational Advisory Committee in 2012.
He also successfully sponsored the elimination of the residency rule for teachers, saying that the rule was selectively enforced and limited the pool of talented teachers from which the district could draw.
“The residency rule has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with a competent, certified teacher in every classroom,” he said.
Hernandez said that if he’s re-elected, he will work to establish a districtwide truancy reduction program. He also will push for a comprehensive alternative education program for expelled students that focuses on broader problems affecting student achievement, including family issues, deficient academic skills and legal troubles.
He also said he’ would like to see the district settle its long-expired contract with the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
“Always a worthy goal,” he stated.
What Hernandez doesn’t support is also noteworthy. He’s not a fan of charter schools. He pointed out that of the 17 charter schools in Buffalo, nine are not meeting state assessment standards. He also noted that most charter schools don’t enroll students with limited English proficiency or students with disabilities.
“Until I see better results from the local charter schools, I will not support an increase in charter schools,” he said.
On other issues, Hernandez does not support a return to neighborhood schools, saying it affects integration and equity among students. He also said that some neighborhoods don’t have enough schools to effectively accommodate a community-school model and that busing expenses account for only 5 percent of the district’s operating costs because of state reimbursements.
He said he believes Superintendent Pamela Brown is moving in the district in the right direction and thinks taxpayers should contribute more money to support the district schools. The City of Buffalo makes the smallest contribution to public education of any of the Big 5 cities across the state, he said.
Hernandez has deep West Side roots, is endorsed by the Citizen Action advocacy group and the Stonewall Democrats as well as the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
But Hernandez is clearly fighting a difficult battle for re-election because his name has been thrown off the ballot for not having enough valid petition signatures, forcing the write-in campaign.
Hernandez won election as a write-in candidate in 2004. But in his last election in 2010, he held his seat by only 28 votes in a two-way race.