Discrediting the School Board Election
June 18, 2019
Dear Senators Andrea Stewart-Cousins & Tim Kennedy:
The Buffalo News Editorial Board and outgoing School Board Member Larry Quinn have made declarations to rid the city of Buffalo of an elected School Board and replace it with a mayoral and/or state appointed board. Last week, the NYS Assembly approved a bill to change the School Board Election from May to November. All WNY Assembly Members voted against it, except one. The bill is now before the NYS Senate. Language in the Assembly bill ignores the election that just occurred and the terms for all nine elected BOE Members, establishing a new election in November of 2020. After all the time and energy spent and braving inclement weather by candidates, volunteers, and voters, this is not only undemocratic, but insulting.
The claimed motives driving the change in the election date are low voter turnout and teacher union endorsements. According to The Buffalo News, turnout for this past election was 7%, consistent with historically low turnout in school board elections. No doubt, low turnout is news worthy; however, for some context, let’s look at turnout in some surrounding suburban school board elections.
Using voter registration data from the Erie County Board of Elections and election results from The Buffalo News, most had an even lower turnout than the city of Buffalo (i.e. West Seneca= 5%, Amherst= <1%, Cheektowaga= <1%, Clarence= 6%, and Lancaster= 5%). In addition, many of the union endorsed candidates were elected. Low voter turnout is impacted by far more than the date of the election. For example, the contested primary for Mayor in 2017 saw a turnout of just 9% in the city of Buffalo and it is likely that the primary election date change to June will result in another notably low turnout next week for contested Common Council races.
So, why does the doomsday narrative and outcry from a few only apply to the Buffalo School Board? Why are any of our state elected officials catering to the dissatisfaction of a few?
If we are serious about addressing low turnout and improving opportunity for other committed community members to run and get elected, let’s have that conversation and start with the archaic petition requirements. The current Assembly and Senate bills do not lower the required amount of petition signatures (500 for sub-district and 1000 for at-large), even after the required signature amounts were lowered for city and county offices. Conversation can certainly include a date change, but must go far beyond or were missing the mark.
We have a lot of work to do for our schools, students, and families. This is where the newly elected school board’s focus should be, not on defending attempts to discredit the legitimacy of the past election and the voice of the community and voters. Our WNY state delegation needs to value and include those who were elected to serve and a broader community voice on this matter, and not knee jerk to appease a disgruntled few.
Buffalo Board of Education Member Elect, At-Large