Mayor Byron W. Brown has made his strongest statements to date about the possibility of taking over the city’s troubled school district. It’s about time.
The discussion came up in response to a question during a board meeting of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, attended by about 30 people. Brown has presided over the resurgence of New York State’s second-largest city. Cranes mark the many construction sites and the waterfront is being transformed. But the city’s resurgence is threatened by the continuing failure of the school system.
The mayor remained customarily cautious, saying that he is not actively seeking control of the district and that it is one of several options he is examining. But the mere threat of a takeover should send a shock wave down the spine of a dysfunctional school district. It should at least get the attention of another, unrelated Brown.
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown has been put on notice by more than a few people, outspoken critic and School Board member Carl P. Paladino notwithstanding. Her days as head of a failing district appear to be numbered, with that drama playing out in the May School Board election.
With his latest statements, Mayor Brown has stepped out from his recent behind-the-scenes role in the school district. In late 2013 he was the liaison between the superintendent and those trying to buy out her contract.
Wednesday the mayor said, “I’m not frustrated about the actors. I’m frustrated by the level of results at this point.” The level of results includes poor performance on state tests of any stripe, and a 2012-13 graduation that has perhaps inched up to 54 percent.
There are no details on what a school takeover would involve. Typically, it means elected School Board members are replaced by a board appointed by the mayor to some degree. A change in the school governance structure in Buffalo would also require state legislation, which is no sure thing.
Mayors have taken over other school systems, with New York City being the one people here point to the most and criticize the most. This city’s mayor would do well to study and learn from those examples.
He has the right idea in going to the business community, which has a large stake in the outcomes achieved by the public schools. And local business leaders have a long history of using their resources in trying to build a better school system. Any school takeover should have the buy-in and support of the entire community.
The public education system determines whether the city is able to reach its potential. Right now, it’s failing.
Mayor Brown has stepped up to the bully pulpit that has long awaited his presence as an advocate for better education. That has to be a good thing for a district in desperate straits.