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Yes, the sky is falling – and that could, possibly, maybe be good. After a campaign in which his most vociferous critics stooped to tactics even he wouldn't adopt, Carl Paladino is riding a bandwagon to the Buffalo Board of Education alongside at least three other new and incumbent reformers.

To listen to his critics, that will be ruinous.

But after the most disgusting local campaign in recent memory, Paladino now has more credibility than the teacher unions suspected of trying to anonymously smear him and any other candidate not professing fealty to the status quo. He also brings racial baggage not easy to ignore in a largely African-American and Hispanic district. Yet those are the very students victimized by district unions that never met a change they liked.

If Paladino is smarter than he publicly lets on, he'll drop his “sisterhood” attacks on black female board members and a black superintendent who hasn't even been here a year and focus on the targets the entire community can rally around: union contracts and state laws that make change virtually impossible.

The 2010 gubernatorial nominee is perfect for that task if he can focus half his ire, clout and money on the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the other half on Albany, which he beat in 2006 in ridding the Niagara Thruway of tolls.

One of the best things he could do for students, for instance, is target the Triborough Amendment that lets unions put a stranglehold on the district. That ridiculous law lets the terms of expired contracts – including the “step” pay increases that Buffalo teachers enjoy – remain in effect into perpetuity, removing any incentive for teachers to bargain unless a district is rich enough to buy contract changes.

While teachers feel no pain, students suffer under outdated provisions in their and other union contracts that outrage parents, including terms that:

• Prevent the district from saving millions on transportation, as suburban schools do, by staggering bus runs because Buffalo teachers can veto any change in school starting times.

• Prevent Buffalo's athletes from benefiting from the best coaching around because teachers have the right of first refusal for any coaching job – even if a Bob Lanier or a former Buffalo Bills player wanted to step in.

• Make it cost-prohibitive to turn schools into after-hours community centers because engineers have to be paid extra to open the buildings, and principals and teachers have to be paid to be there if there's any kind of academic offering.

Such provisions tie the district's hands, which is one reason parents have taken on the unions and murmured about a district control board.

Regardless of how he feels about students of color – and his language and the racist emails he forwarded make that an open question – a Paladino war on the unions and Albany could make those kids collateral beneficiaries. He might even find an ally in Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has also pushed reform.

There's no doubt Paladino will wreck the district's china shop. The only question is whether it will be creative destruction, or destruction that forces the board into factions that stymie one another and get nothing done. Students can only hope he's smart enough to come up with the right answer.



email: rwatson@buffnews.com