Carl P. Paladino is considering a run for another elective office, this one closer to home: the Buffalo School Board.
Paladino, perhaps the most vocal and vitriolic critic of the board, has put its members on notice.
“I’m exploring all the alternatives we have right now to get rid of that board. That board is a bunch of incompetents who are in way over their heads, making decisions that they don’t have a clue about and totally frustrating that Dr. Brown,” he said, referring to School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown.
If the blunt-spoken developer, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010, does decide to run, he will be in a race with no incumbent.
South District board member Louis J. Petrucci has decided not to run for a third term. Petrucci cited competing demands on his time, including the possibility of returning to school for a master’s degree in public administration.
Paladino, 66, says he’s looking for others who want to run for the board. Six seats are up this year, each representing a specific geographic area and elected only by the people living in that part of the city.
“I think it’s time for change,” Paladino said, “and I’m going to lead the community in seeking change. I’m going to destroy them,” he said, referring to the board members. “All nine of them.”
Paladino’s suggestion that he might run for the board elicited a mixture of responses from board members.
He makes several board members’ blood boil, with his references to the “sisterhood” – a term used by him and some others for the black women in positions of power on the board and in the district – raising their ire.
At one meeting, at-large board member Florence D. Johnson walked out when Paladino started speaking.
“I just don’t know how much longer I’m prepared to sit there and let him be abusive,” said Sharon Belton-Cottman, who represents the Ferry District. “I don’t see where it’s productive. He can do what he wants.”
Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak is also up for election this year.
“I just say, people have that right,” said Kapsiak, who represents the Central District. “If that’s what Carl wants to do, you know Carl; he’s going to do it.”
“It’s easy for him to pick apart and blame everybody when he doesn’t know what the district is really binded by, whether it’s the union contracts or the state mandates, federal mandates,” said North District board member Jason M. McCarthy. “We’re really handcuffed in a lot of ways to change the way we do business. I think it would be a real eye-opener for him.”
At the top of Paladino’s list of what he sees as the board’s most recent offenses: not supporting a proposal to turn two district schools into charter schools and not playing “hardball” with the teachers union over the evaluation agreement.
Paladino says that if he does run for the board and win, his first step would be to fire the upper-level school district administrators in City Hall.
“When you have people whose performance is lacking, as evidenced by year after year of dysfunction, it means you have to try to get somebody else,” he said.
“I’d get rid of that whole staff up there and get some real professional people to do a real professional job, rather than just protect their job all day long.”
Paladino is the highest-profile person so far to express interest in running for the board, in what is likely to be a pivotal election in the district.
Six of the nine seats on the board are up for election this May, meaning the election will establish the direction of the board – and with it, the district. The three at-large seats are up in May 2014.
School Board elections in Buffalo historically draw extremely low voter turnout, with only a few hundred people voting in some races, which are often decided by just a handful of ballots.
But many people are expecting that to change this year, with public interest in the state of the city’s schools higher than it has been in quite some time.
That interest in the schools was manifested in strong candidate pools for each of the three times in the last two years that a seat on the board became vacant in midterm, attracting the likes of professors, business owners and community activists to apply for the seats.
People interested in running for one of the six seats that are up for election this year will be able to pick up nominating petitions from the School Board office in City Hall or the Erie County Board of Elections, or download them from the Board of Elections website, starting sometime next week, according to Ralph M. Mohr, Republican commissioner on the Board of Elections.
Candidates can begin circulating petitions Feb. 26 and must file them between April 2 and 9.