Tomorrow (Tuesday May 3, 2016) is School Board Election Day in Buffalo! Voter turnout in these elections is typically very low, so every vote can make a huge difference. We know that April’s primary got many first time voters to the polls. Now turn that passion for a national election into one that matters here at home.
We spoke with Geoff Schutte about the election. Geoff is a new kind of teacher: he is the co-founder of Educators for a Better Buffalo, a group of civically-minded educators. He also helps organize the Buffalo Reading Invasion. Geoff regularly puts together a voter’s guide for friends and family: this year he’s set up a website to track election news and provide voting information.
What’s at Stake?
In terms of basic governance, 6 of the 9 Buffalo Board of Education seats are up for grabs. These are all “district” seats, in that the candidates are running to represent a specific region in Buffalo, and only registered voters within that district are eligible to vote. These 6 seats cover every area in Buffalo. Each of the winners will serve a 3-year team on the Board.
In terms of basic politics, it gets a lot more complicated. 5 of the 6 incumbents are running again, though Board Chairman Jim Sampson is not on the ballot–he’s a write-in. Furthermore, a variety of political interest groups, particularly the unions, are investing a great deal of resources to change the make-up of the Board.
What District am I in?
The Erie Country Board of Elections has a nice map that addresses district boundaries. You can access that here. Any Buffalo resident who is currently registered to vote is eligible.
What do my District’s Candidates Stand For?
The Buffalo News has been ramping up its coverage of late, including basic candidate profiles for everyone running. Additionally, this website is designed to be an easy and centralized spot for information on each candidate, latest news stories, and other voting basics.
Where is my polling place?
The Erie Country Board of Elections has a nice poll finder (here). However, the poll stations for this election should be the same as when you voted in April and in November.
What big priorities are at issue this election?
Truthfully, this year’s elections feel much more about political interest groups and their ability to control the Board, rather than any specific issue. Unlike the last election, this year’s outcome won’t necessarily decide the fate of current Superintendent Kriner Cash. It may, however, impact contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, as well as the fate of some reforms, but these issues have been less the story than the attempts by various interest groups to impact the composition of the Board.
There are, of course, hot bottom issues like the expansion of charter schools, the length of the school day, the Common Core, and state testing. But these are complex education issues, and not ones that the Board necessarily has the ability to alter by itself. Additionally, the recent charges of voter fraud and the challenging of signatures has created a sense that this election is more about affiliation than about a candidate’s qualifications to oversee a billion dollar public entity.
What is turnout usually like in school board elections?
Embarrassingly low. Depending on the district, turnout can be below 10% of the population, sometimes closer to 5%. In the last district election, three years ago, both the West and the East districts received just over 1,000 votes for each seat. While the elections seem to have garnered more attention in the past few years, voter turnout still remains despairingly low, considering the stakes.
How else can people get involved and informed about what is going on in education in Buffalo?
For all the promise that has accompanied Buffalo’s renaissance, the public school system continues to struggle to transform itself. There is no easy solution, nor a single step that could be taken to transform it. Voting in the School Board election is an important act of civic responsibility, but it needs to accompany greater involvement by everyone. There are still too many schools where many Buffalonians would never send their children, too many schools where children are failing to graduate, and too much at stake to ignore the importance of having a quality public school system.
Being involved in a school. Acting as a mentor. Keeping informed of the issues. These are all ways to get involved beyond the elections. However, at a fundamental level, the most important thing all of us can do is recognize that the future of our city is tied to our school system. For those without kids in school, it can seem irrelevant and distant. And for those who have navigated the education system successfully, it can become a side issue. Only when we exercise a collective concern will the schools become part of the Buffalo success story.
The Board has an enormous and crucial task for our city: it oversees a nearly billion dollar budget, over 32,000 school children, and the thousands of teachers that work with them. Please consider voting tomorrow. Please encourage others to do the same.
If you live in the North District, the race is between
Jay McCarthy (incumbent)
If you live in the West District, the race is between
Jim Sampson (Mr. Sampson is a write-in candidate only)
If you live in the Park District (South), the race is between:
If you live in the Central District, the race is between
If you live in the East District, the race is between
Colleen Russell (Ms. Russell is a write-in candidate only)
Patricia Elliot (Ms. Elliot is a write-in candidate only)
If you live in the Ferry District, the only candidate is