May 2016 Issue - Labor Issues
May 27, 2016

Buffalo activism turns school board around

Author: By Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
Several hundred people show up for the Buffalo Students Deserve Rally in Niagara Square. Photo by Dennis Stierer.
Caption: Several hundred people show up for the Buffalo Students Deserve Rally in Niagara Square. Photo by Dennis Stierer.

In a resounding show of support for public school students and teachers — and a firm rejection of corporate-driven, for-profit "reform" — voters in Buffalo in May elected a new board of education.

The diverse slate of NYSUT-backed candidates nearly swept all six of the city's school board races, ousting two incumbents — including board President James Sampson — and easily taking three other seats.

The only incumbent to be re-elected was right-wing activist and former 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who was nearly upset by 18-year-old high school student Austin Harig.

The Paladino-Harig battle came down to a count of absentee ballots, with the incumbent holding on to his board seat by 107 votes.

The out-going board majority, led by Paladino, had been marred by infighting the last two years. Consumed by a desire to expand charter schools, the majority also had taken a hardline stance in refusing to negotiate in good faith with the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which has been working under a contract that expired more than a decade ago.

The board's new labor-backed majority — which will take its seats July 1 — will focus on reducing class sizes, establishing community schools, implementing early literacy programs and restoring civility to the decision-making process.

Since the election, there have been calls in the city for Paladino to step down from the board, with supporters of that position saying the millionaire developer's combative style will be a disservice to a community looking to finally move past the acrimony that has plagued the board the last few years.