Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Despite student performance, voters have so far stuck with school board incumbents

Posted By on Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 10:52 AM

While most of the attention during the Democratic primary and in the last weeks leading up to the general election has been on the twists in the mayoral race, there’s been something equally unexpected about the city school board race. With such dismal performance of city students by almost every standard, the dissatisfaction with school officials has been intense. Yet all the school board incumbents won their primary races. 

The outcry from parents and business and community leaders seemed to suggest that the three incumbents – Jose Cruz, Cynthia Elliott, and Van White – were in trouble. 

It’s not as if voters haven’t had alternatives. Incumbent school board members faced more competition in this election than in most. Some of the challengers have been quite strong, too. And the Democrat and Chronicle pushed a “throw the incumbents” out agenda — refusing to endorse any of the school board vets. 
click to enlarge Rochester school district headquarters. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Rochester school district headquarters.

But that’s not what happened in the primary. The dramatic upset that most people expected in the school board race occurred in the mayoral race instead. And though there is still an opportunity for more surprises with today’s general election, you have to wonder what's really on the minds of voters when it comes to the school board seats.

This is a wild guess, but voters may be seeing a glimmer of something positive in the district and maybe they want to give it a chance. The in-fighting between some board members has not been as acidic or as public. Discussions about some key issues have been more deliberative and less rancorous.

And Superintendent Bolgen Vargas seems more comfortable and confident after having made some dramatic changes to the district. When asked recently whether his relationship with the board has improved, he said he thought it had. And he said that he also believes that the public has generally approved of some of his biggest initiatives, which also had the support of the board. 

“I think there is some acceptance, a growing community acceptance about the need for expanded learning,” he said.

Vargas said that Wilson Magnet High School will bring the total number of schools with expanded instruction time this year to 21. And he said that he's trying to get the funds to start full-day universal pre-k in January 2014. And his drive to increase attendance and reading, he said, are showing signs of working.

Maybe voters aren’t thrilled with Cruz, Elliott, or White, but they’ve had their fill of contentious board members and drive-by superintendents. 

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