Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rochester school board candidates see only the tip of the iceberg

Posted by on Wed, May 29, 2013 at 11:32 AM

Some of the most memorable politicians possess a remarkable mix of showmanship, persuasiveness, and likeability. But they often lack the ability to predict future disasters even when the signs are floating all around them.

Howard Eagle, Ernest Flagler, Ronald Hall, Tim McCauley, and Candice Lucas each made compelling pitches to mostly parents last night for a seat on the school board. Three incumbents are up for re-election this year — Van White, Cynthia Elliott, and Jose Cruz. White, Cruz, and newcomer Lucas have been endorsed by Monroe County Democrats. It is unknown at this time if Elliott is staying in the race.

Some of the candidates’ themes are as perennial as the candidates themselves. Flagler said he wants the district to help students with skills training to become firefighters, police officers, plumbers, and electricians. He also advocated for better health services for students, as well as for the adults who work with them.

Eagle said he identified with children living in deep poverty, and he pushed back on the idea that children who come from poor households can’t achieve. He also said that social promotion in the district has to stop.

High salaries for Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s growing cabinet concerned Hall, who said he isn’t seeing enough support for students being directed down to the classroom level. McCauley said he wants to see more resources devoted to early childhood development.

And Lucas pined for more parent engagement.

Almost all of the candidates said that parents, family members, and even volunteers are not currently welcome in the RCSD. And some said racism permeates the district and argued for a more genuine effort at an Afrocentric curriculum and cultural awareness training.

At one point, board hopefuls were asked what may have been the most relevant question of the evening: how can they assure the community they won’t "sell out" once elected? But that’s a difficult question to answer until you see the job from the inside.

While some of these issues are undoubtedly on the minds of the incumbents trying to hold on to their seats, their focus right now is on a declining student population — something no one at last night's meeting addressed.

Within a few years, more charter schools will open, filling their seats with city students. That’s the iceberg that’s sending a chill through the administration, and whomever voters put into office better have a plan to navigate around it.

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