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Schools at a Crossroads: Interviews with Buffalo School Board Candidates Part III

All this week we are bringing you the voices of more than a dozen candidates vying for three-at-large Buffalo School board seats.  WBFO, WNED-TV and The Buffalo News teamed to record interviews with those who will appear on the May 6th ballot. WBFO'S Eileen Buckley highlights the candidates to help inform Buffalo voters as part of our Focus on Education reporting.

"So many parents have told me that they feel decisions are being made and they have little or no input into them whatsoever," said Patricia Pierce, a long-time Buffalo resident.  She currently serves as a confidential criminal investigator for the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

Pierce notes that "leadership" is the most problematic situation within the city school district. Buffalo News education reporter Mary Pasiak joined in the questioning of Pierce believes it’s time for schools superintendent Pamela Brown to be fired.

"What do you think change with a change in the superintendent?", asked Pasik.

"I think that the board and the superintended need to work together as a team and they need to involve the parents and the opinions of the parents and engage the parents so they feel they are connected with what's going on in the district. Teachers and principals feel as though meetings are taking place behind closed doors that are affecting their schools and they are not even a voice at the table. They have not input whatsoever. So I would think that with a superintendent that was dynamic and exuded leaderships skills -- she would want or he would want to work with the principals," said Pierce.
Pierce said  she favors a schools superintendent from the within the district -- not from the outside. Pierce is supported in her campaign by school board member Carl Paladino -- who has made attempts to terminate Superintendent Brown.

"Do you expect, if elected, to be an alley on the board with him?", asked Buckley.

"It would depend on what the issue was. I certainly think independently and going to think for myself and examine issues and I'm going to do what I think is in the best interest of the students at all times," said Pierce.

Pierce sees Paladino's work on the board as holding the District accountable. Pierce says the board is too lead the governance of the district and should be pulling schools out of failing status. One of her opponents agrees with that same premise.

"I think the folks that are there now have forgotten why they were sent there and the purpose of being there. Because I think if there's no governance within the system, then nothing else is going to work right," said Ralph Hernandez.

Hernandez will also be appearing on the May 6th school board ballot.  Hernandez is a former board member.  He got knocked-off last year's ballot because of troubles with his nominating petitions.  Hernandez had served for nine years as the West District representative -- but was unsuccessful in his write-in campaign last year.  Buffalo News reporter Pasiak questions his support for Superintendent Brown and if he would vote to fire her.
“So based on the information based on the information you have on her right now -- how would you vote?", asked Pasciak.

"At this point and time, I probably would -- I would like to see the evaluation because I've read what the Buffalo News is saying. I've read the blogs from the Buffalo News and I've talked to some people like -- people I know Paladino -- and other people who feel that she has been derelict of this -- she's been derelict of that, but then you skip the other side -- where she's not been giving the opportunity. Somebody seems to be kind of sabotaging the administration from within.  There's a lot of different things to consider. And that's why I did not take a position on whether I would fire her or not," said Hernandez.
Pasciak pointed out to the candidate that under his previous nine-years on the board the district saw no significant improvements in student achievement, graduation rates or attendance.
"So what would be the case you would make for people to return you to the board?", asked Pasciak.

"First of all you would have to define significant to me you know because we have made some headway with regards to suspension rates and truancy reduction, and when I left, although the scores weren't off the charts...they were still headed in the right direction, so that's a good sign.  Because the second thing is when I was there, I introduced more resolutions in the nine year period when I was there than all my predecessors combined. I work hard, very hard. I study my issues," said Hernandez.

Hernandez is the union’s candidate supported by the Buffalo Teachers Federation.

"So were those petitions carried by union folks?," asked Buckley.  "We have some people that we know that came in from New York, but yeah there are some people that knew the BTF," said Hernandez.

"Do you believe that changes the dynamic for you as a candidate ? asked Buckley. "No. And the reason I say that is the reason behind people circulating for you is just to be able to -- it's  obviously one person can't go out there and collect 3,000 signatures in the short amount of time with the weather conditions we have...If those folks, who were circulating for me were circulating illegally or were not qualified to circulate -- that's a different situation -- but they were very well qualified, under the law, to circulate petitions for me in the city of Buffalo," said Hernandez. 

Thursday morning we will feature three more school board candidates -- Adrian Harris -- John Licata and Sergio Rodriguez.   

Watch Friday at 8 p.m. when WNED/WBFO and The Buffalo News team to bring you all the candidates appearing on the ballot in a special program called "Schools at Crossroads: Interviews with Buffalo School Board Candidates."

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