This much is certain: Buffalo School Board elections are attracting attention that they rarely – if ever – did before. And there is real quality among those seeking to serve on the nine-member board.
That’s a good sign. Buffalo’s greatest weakness right now is its school district, which is providing a substandard education to too many students. That is not wholly the fault of the School Board or even of the administration, but the board is a key player in what has become a radically dysfunctional operation.
Part of the problem is that the requirements for running for School Board are low: You have to be 18 years old and able to speak English. The Buffalo School District is a nearly billion-dollar-a-year operation. That requires a level of expertise and attention that those minimal standards don’t automatically attract.
Indeed the city School Board’s history is to be factional, with some members in the sway of the teachers union, others of the current administration. The board is too little about education and too much about politics; too little about managing a massive budget and too much about making excuses.
At least 14 people have filed petitions to run for three at-large seats on the board. Usually, some candidates will be knocked off the ballot because of problems with their petitions, but some well-qualified people are on the initial list: at least two attorneys, a former college administrator, a law enforcement investigator, a developer and community leader, a former executive with billion-dollar corporations.
Whoever wins this election will be put to the test of setting a productive course for a rudderless board. That’s why, more than in most years, qualifications matter in this race. Buffalo needs a School Board – and a group of administrators – that can monitor a budget, instead of watching the district’s finances collapse; that can produce state-mandated documents correctly and on time, instead of failing repeatedly; that demands accountability and competence from its superintendent; that respects the legal rights of parents; and that holds itself to the high standards that the city needs.
With this election, Buffalo voters may have the chance to produce that kind of School Board, or at least take a big step toward achieving that necessary goal. The May 6 election is less than a month away. The winners will take their seats two months later, in July.
The day can’t come soon enough.