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Rudnick’s School Board Email

Andrew Rudnick sent out an email of behalf of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership this morning weighing in on next week’s Buffalo school board elections, in which all six district seats are up for grabs.

Not surprisingly, the Partnership supports that same candidates who are the being touted by slick, expensive mailings paid for by Education Reform Now, a national group that advocates for charter schools, whose local connection seems to be a political operative named Whitney Kemp. Buck Quigley wrote a nice piece in this week’s paper about those mailings and their provenance.

Here’s what Rudnick says:

On Tuesday, May 4, elections for district members of the Buffalo Public
School Board will be held. It’s predicted that – rain or shine – the
turnout will be dismal. And while that’s in the best interest of Phil
Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teacher Federation (BTF), it’s not in the
best interest of the district’s students or city taxpayers.

Last May, only five percent of registered city voters turned out for the
Buffalo School Board’s at large election. Given these elections are held
months from “general election
races – especially district ones – often have been decided by a few dozen
votes. And that means each and every vote can make a huge difference.

So far we can agree, at least in part: The low voter turnout in school board elections is shameful, as the stakes are so high. But Rudnick loses points for taking the easy tack of demonizing Phil Rumore, the union guy who looks out for his members, most of them city taxpayers, too. Why single out teachers, Rudnick? How about bloated, overpaid management? How about waste and missteps in the execution of the schools reconstruction project?

He continues:

We’re supporting the following reform committed candidates (read our blog
about why):

Central: Mary Ruth Kaspiak
East: Vivian Evans
Ferry: Kinzer Pointer
North: Jason McCarthy
West: Phil Lomax
(Louis Petrucci is running unopposed in the Park district)

Living in a glass house as I do, I won’t fault Rudnick for misspelling Mary Ruth Kapsiak’s name. But I will suggest that supporting two incumbents on the school board hardly suggests that the BNP’s agenda is “reform.” Kinzer Pointer is a charter school guy, which is fine; we know where he’s coming from. Phil Lomax is something of a cipher, as he’s been out of town and will be until just before the election, thus missing all the candidates nights. Jay McCarthy is a friend of mine, and I admire his work promoting microparks, but a word of warning: In these parts, political friends can do a person damage that he doesn’t deserve. Remember, if these candidates haven’t approved ERN’s spending on their campaigns, then ERN is breaking the law, and that reflects on the candidates it supports. Unapproved expenditures in school board races are limited to $25. This was an issue with Chris Jacobs in last year’s school board race, when Jacobs and the Partnership illegally spent many thousands of dollars to promote a slate of at-large candidates, and it smells bad.

Rudnick continues:

Why should you care? Even if you don’t have children in the Buffalo Public

1). Nearly $1 billion of taxpayer money funds the Buffalo School District,
and the typically abysmal voter turnout shows virtually nobody is paying
attention to how more than 50 percent of city property tax receipts are
being used.

2). School Board Elections are largely ignored by registered city voters,
which makes it easy for the BTF to use the phone banks and foot soldiers
to have a disproportionate impact on school board elections – and thus, on
how the school system operates. For many years, this meant the BTF was
negotiating contracts on “both sides of the bargaining table” and that’s
why, today, the school system is paying out more for the lifetime benefits
of its retirees, than for benefits for current teachers in the classroom.
Read more about public employee

Amen to point #1. As to point #2, again with the public employee unions? I wonder how much the Partnership’s advocacy of charter schools has to do with quality of education and how much it has to do with its perennial agenda to bust unions (public and private) and privatize government functions, making them revenue sources for its members.

3). The availability of high-quality human talent is a top issue facing
businesses today. Nationwide, business leaders increasingly place
improving public education at the top of their list of priorities, because
they believe the education system in the United States fails to produce
graduates prepared to compete both locally and in a global economy.
Locally, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus estimates that 5,000 people
will be added to the medical corridor’s workforce by 2012. Are the Buffalo
Public Schools preparing its students to fill those positions? How about
positions at your company?

“…high-quality human talent”? As opposed to trained seals and talking dogs, I guess. Or production-line robots. As for the creation of 5,000 jobs in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Corridor in the next two years, that would be nice, but that number is part of a sales pitch for enabling subsidies and legislation. It’s not based on anything concrete. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be worried about the quality of our schools, but don’t trust anyone who trots out a sales pitch where facts are needed.

Fortunately, Rudnick continues with some actual statistics:

*   Nearly two-thirds of adults in Buffalo function at the two lowest
levels of literacy, meaning they can’t function at the minimum level of
literacy employers in our region require for any job higher than entry
*   Thirty-five percent of Buffalo Public School children don’t graduate
high school.
*   Buffalo is the nation’s third-poorest city, according to the U.S.
Census, and the Buffalo metro area has the highest black male jobless
rate (51.4 percent) among American’s 35 large cities, according to
figures cited by Professor Marc V. Levine of the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee .

5). 35,000 young people are enrolled in the Buffalo Public Schools. They
deserve better.

Those are sobering numbers. I don’t think that Andrew Rudnick and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership have demonstrated any great success in pursuing their own mission, however, so I don’t know why anyone should listen to their advice on fixing Buffalo’s public schools.

  • How do you get this stuff! Once again you are incredible. If anyone thinks that the Partnership has the interests of our kids at heart,I have a bridge for you.

  • AL

    Thanks for the write up guys. If Andy and Co. want the school board this bad, its really important to keep him from having it.

  • Jonathan Wellinton-Fidrych III

    Dr. Rudnick is one of the truly great Americans of the modern era. The good people of Buffalo will surely obey his voting instructions. He has the right to spend his money on any candidate he wants, without disclosing which organization he is operating from. That is the American Way and anyone who disagrees should go back to where they came from.

  • BuffaloRandy

    Thank you for highlighting both the pros and cons of Mr. Rudnick’s arguments. I live in the city of Buffalo and have two school age children. I am very interested in the school system.

    My own personal preference would be a voucher system where parents’ choice dictates where the budget goes. This would reduce the concentration of power and antidemocratic aspect of the school board. The reflexive argument against that is that the kids who are easier (and presumably cheaper) to educate would go into the private schools and charters. Special needs children would be left in the public system, driving up their costs. My own personal experience is that that argument is bogus. I have a special needs child who has been placed in a private school by the BPS committee on special education after four public school placements failed.

    While I empathize with Mr. Rumore, the BLS study that in 2009 public sector workers were paid $1.45 in cash and benefits for every $1 private sector workers get indicates a lack of equity that must be addressed. He does not help his case when he labels 20% health insurance contributions an insult when private sector workers typically pay 50%. That same BLS study indicated that the recession that started in late 2008 disproportionately impacted the private sector, while public workers suffered little or no impact.

    I don’t have an easy solution, just a sense that the status quo is unjust and that reducing the power of undemocratic institutions like the school board and the Partnership would give better results, especially if children could change schools easily.