By Hannya Boulos – Buffalo ReformED:
With Chris Jacobs’ recent resignation from the Board of Education, and imminent move to the post of Erie County Clerk, the board is charged with filling its third vacant seat in less than a year.
First, a bit of background–Chris Jacobs was an at-large member of the board, which means he was elected by the city as a whole, not by a specific district. In recent years, the board has set a bad precedent when dealing with at-large vacancies. Instead of appointing a new outside candidate to the at-large seat, the board has twice moved an existing district representative to the at-large seat, and then filled the district seat with an outside candidate. At last Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting, Chris Jacobs openly urged his colleagues to move in a different direction.
Mr. Jacobs is right, and his colleagues should take heed. The process the board has relied on in the past has major shortfalls. At large members serve a 5-year term, as opposed to district members, who serve a 3-year term. When the board shuffles an existing member to the at-large seat, that member extends his or her term without winning an election. By commandeering this process internally, the board excludes candidates from the wider community from the application process, and gives a stronger voice to the constituents of whichever district seat is now vacated. The limitation of potential candidates based on the political aspirations of individual board members is a clear gerrymandering of the process.
This is a critical time for our district; Buffalo’s new board of education member will vote on important issues such as the next Superintendent, and the future of our growing number of failing schools. Now is not the time to further alienate the public, especially given that 1/3 of this board will now be appointed, rather than directly elected. The board is in theory, an elected body, designed to represent the parents and students of the Buffalo Public Schools. In continuing this practice of internal chess, the board becomes even less representative of those it serves.
Regardless of past practice, the school board should not have the authority to limit who is allowed to interview because it predetermines which existing member assumes the at-large seat. If existing board members want to interview for the seat, they should be allowed to, alongside interested candidates from across Buffalo. The board has recently taken steps to ensure the review process for candidates is more transparent, to follow past practice would be a giant step backwards.
In full disclosure, Buffalo ReformED’s board chair is considering running for the vacant at-large seat. He lives in the west district. Part of our role as an organization is demanding transparency and accountability from our local education leaders, we are encouraging the school board to open the interview process up to the entire city because it is the fair thing to do.
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Here is a petition that we’ve drafted.