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What's at stake in today's Buffalo School Board election

Eileen Buckley

The next few years of the Buffalo Public Schools system are being decided Tuesday and it is close to a complete mystery how it will turn out.

There are nine seats on the board and in a quirk that happens every 15 years, all are on the ballot this year. However, four incumbents are running without any opposition.

The at-large seats are a different story. All three at-large incumbents - Larry Quinn, Barbara Seals Nevergold and Patty Pierce - decided not to run again. There are eight-candidates running for those three openings.

Quinn said he is not running because he did not see a path to the majority to make changes.

"Because I didn't think that there were enough like-minded people that it would make sense for me to run," Quinn said. "You can only really accomplish much in the majority and I was quite confident that there wouldn't be a majority on the board that I would necessarily want to join forces with."

Quinn came on board with Pierce and Carl Paladino, determined to make changes. Quinn said the biggest mistake was in hiring Donald Ogilvie as superintendent, which led to a succession of other superintendents and interim superintendents until Kriner Cash was hired and stabilized the school system.

Quinn is guessing that two of the at-large winners will be former Councilmember and workforce developer Jeff Conrad and Villa Maria Liberal Arts and Professional Studies Chair Ann Rivera.

"At-large seats will determine which way it goes because, as you know, the district seats - most of them - are unopposed," Quinn said, "but it looks as though you have a bloc with Hope Jay and (Jennifer) Mecozzi and Lou Petrucci and, depending on where the outcome of the at-large, whether they will be able to control the board or not."

Mecozzi has two kids who are graduates of city schools and a child diagnosed as needing special education. As a parent who is in the schools a lot, she said Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash has turned the system around and wants him to stay on for a few more years, beyond the contract which has a year to go.

"We're making strides. We're not moving in the leaps and bounds that people would like, but at the same time, we're uncovering decades worth of systematic crazy that we need to recognize takes some time, but it's being addressed," Mecozzi said. "I just feel like, again, that Dr. Cash and the structures he put in place is really been the big attribute for that."

That is going to be one of the key items on the agenda for the new board when it takes office July 1. The board must decide if it wants to persuade Cash to stay on and lock into place the many changes he has made in the system.

Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said he is expecting a turnout in the low teens, which would be very high since vote totals are sometimes as low as 4% of registered voters. Mohr said the at-large seats might bring out voters.

"We haven't seen for a long time the number of at-large members that are running for three open seats, so hopefully that will spur some turnout," Mohr said. "Historically, the turnout has been as low as 4% and as high as 12%-18% across the board."

Polls open at 6 a.m. and will close at 9 p.m. in all of the regular polling places. Mohr said the vote will cost the Board of Elections around $100,000, even with cost controls.

"I don't see anything different this year, except that we have been able to produce the ballots in house as opposed to purchasing them from a vendor," he said. "We deliver our own voting machines so we keep the cost down."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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