A coalition of parents, educators, clergy and business leaders delivered a message to state lawmakers Tuesday to move the Buffalo school board elections from May to the same day as the general election in November.
- Community members are calling on the Legislature to change the date of the school board election
- They believe it will improve a dismal voter turnout record
- The teachers union says moving the election will politicize it
They said the current date, the first Tuesday in May the years the seats are up for election, doesn't make fiscal sense. More importantly, only a small portion of the community is currently voting on who will make decisions on the district's massive budget.
"In this last election, 7 percent of the taxpayers are making the decision about the people who are going to make decisions about how we spend a billion dollars. Just as a city we can do better," Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council President Sam Radford said.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation opposes the bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes in the Assembly and influential Democrat Tim Kennedy in the Senate. President Phil Rumore said only two districts in the state, Rochester and Syracuse, hold their elections in November.
"By having it in November it becomes politicized," he said. So the political parties are the ones that make a decision as to who's going to get the support or not."
Rumore recognizes, historically, the elections have poor voter turnout, but he said it's more important to have the people who are "really concerned about education" vote.
"The Buffalo Teachers Federation has been able to essentially keep control of the Board of Education by controlling when this election is," Radford said.
The union prefers a compromise bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Sean Ryan, which would move the Buffalo election to later in May when the suburban elections are held. Otherwise, Rumore believes his district is being singled out.
"Isn't it interesting though that they're suggesting this just for Buffalo? Why don't they suggest that all the rest of the school districts move their elections and see what the people say," he said.
The next Buffalo School Board election is in 2022, but the coalition wants this passed this year so the district and board of election will have time to prepare. They said they're confident the Assembly will pass the bill and believe it will come down to the Senate.
The union said it's disappointed Kennedy is pushing the bill. However, he said the turnout for the last election — with 16 people running for school board — was not just low, it was embarrassing.
He said the Legislature made voting reform a priority this year and Buffalo should be no different and believes moving the election will foster stronger participation.