Strong Board or Weak Board? There has been little thoughtful weighing of this question, but the community must understand what is at stake before any further snuffing out of democracy for city residents in that most American grassroots institution --- the elected local school board.
I write this as a fan of City, with respect for the proper limits of school-board power (taught by eight years of board service at Hilton and BOCES) --- and with affection for my Democratic Committee colleagues (city and suburb) with whom I have served for almost 30 years.
Bringing this issue into focus in the primary has been difficult. The party-insider designees endorsed by City (August 27), admirable qualities aside, are Business as Usual personified. They derive from an unrepresentative Rube Goldberg contraption of a party-designating process, driven by anything but the substance of school issues (usually petty vanities and turf battles). The three challengers, perhaps angry with good reason, have not worked together when a focused and united reform alternative was both possible and needed.
This is disheartening. But the City School Board may not matter much anyway.
Barely noticed is a new state law, carried in the State Senate by right-wing Republican Joseph Robach of Greece, which ought to be called the Incompetent School Superintendent Protection Act. This law is Smugtown plantation elitism at its most squalid. It requires a super majority, five of seven board members, to remove a superintendent. The idea is that city residents just don't have the sense to elect board members who can be trusted with the authority they have in the suburbs. It is ironic that the suburban-dominated County School Boards Association, which understands how fundamental the selection or removal of a superintendent is to a board's important but properly limited role, opposes this law.
Add to this a conversation in the community that has been stunted by a reluctance of media outlets (including City) to follow even the most obvious lines of criticism of the mayor, whose tenure has been characterized by arrogance as well as talent.
Ostensibly progressive political and media opinion leaders, perhaps embarrassed by the missteps of a board that Mayor Johnson put across earlier, are playing right into the hands of the Aubergers and Minariks by accepting the depiction of the city as incapable of self government.
Ask yourself: would Susan John, who voted for this bill, impose this restriction on school boards serving her Chili constituents? If Robach tried to impose a super-majority limit on the Greece school board, despite all the financial and credibility issues they have had, Greece residents would chase him out of town with pitchforks.
Bill Johnson's cause would be better served with a renewed spirit of democracy in the local Democratic Party. Education would be best served by nonpartisan school-board elections, taking hacks out of this process, and inviting citizens concerned about education in.
The best start toward understanding between city and suburb would be the recognition of one obvious truth: The meltdown in the Rochester School District these past two years did not result from too much citizen input, or too much school-board scrutiny of the superintendent.
Tom Brennan, Lakeview Park, Rochester
Regarding your school board endorsements (August 27): I agree with your choices of Malik Evans and Willa Powell . Both are strong choices.
Shirley Thompson is also a good choice, but I have issues with her response to a survey conducted by the Monroe Coalition for Democracy. She favors teaching creationism alongside evolution. She also walks the line on prayer in classrooms, favoring "an allotted time for silent reflection." If silent-reflection time is set aside, it opens the door for prayer in the future. Separation of church and state was still in the Constitution last time I checked.
David Perez chose not to respond to our survey or to our follow-up inquiries. Silence is not an option when running for public office.
To get more information about MCD and to view the responses of all the candidates, check our website at http://ggw.org/mcd.
Jeffery Young, Strathallan Park, Monroe Coalition for Democracy
I believe citizens will demonstrate their agreement at voting booths on September 9 regarding the need for a "new look" relative to the Rochester Board of Education. However, any old "new look" (in and of itself) will not produce significantly improved academic achievement on the part of massive numbers of City School District students.
Significantly improved academic achievement is the bottom line of my campaign. This is not an easy or simple task. Producing change and improvement will require bold, knowledgeable, committed, and yes, passionate, leadership and expertise.
To successfully "challenge the [deep-seated] board culture" and produce much-needed change and improvement, we can no longer afford to rely solely on guesswork and experimentation. It is critical for education leaders to demonstrate that we know and understand, specifically, what needs to be done in order to produce change and improvement.
Based on the past 16 years as a City School District teacher and 20 years as a community activist, unlike all of my opponents --- I have a crystal-clear understanding and a plan regarding academic improvement. I am the only candidate in the school board race who has produced a concrete plan for change.
Please feel free to contact me for a copy of my 8-point Platform and Working Program: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Howard J. Eagle, Rochester
I believe that the future of this city is bright. I haven't felt that way in a long time.
With each passing year, the social disintegration has worsened, destroying any semblance of the high quality of life that once existed. The filth, squalor, disrepair, and abandonment are so sad to look at. Drugs, crime, economic terrorism, and social institutions have worked hand in hand to bring about this destitution. For far too long, there has been an era of unaccountability, with barely a protest from our local leaders, save perhaps for Louise Slaughter.
But it appears hope has a new name. It is Howard Eagle.
His poignant commentary ("Don't Rely on Suburbs," August 27), summed up the obstacles the city is faced with, while offering solutions that redirect our focus within, as opposed to waiting for "answers" (money) from without.
He has a firm grasp of the big picture that precious few leaders possess, let alone have the courage to express. It is precisely that courage to speak hard truths that I believe City misinterpreted as "anger overwhelming argument" in dismissing Mr. Eagle in its recommendations for school board.
Nevertheless, I commend City for granting Mr. Eagle the space to express his views. I believe the city will benefit greatly from his intellect and insight, regardless of whether he is elected to the school board. I am confident that his diligence and passion will be rewarded. I only hope it's sooner rather than later.
Jim Muhs Jr., West Irondequoit
I want to thank City for its endorsement (August 27). Although my father would disagree that I am "not a firebrand", your description accurately captures what the outside world sees. I prefer to describe myself in affirmative terms, such as a "quiet revolutionary"!
I am especially encouraged that you supported the whole designated slate. It confirms that the (small 'd') democratic process employed by the Democratic Party, culminating in the May convention, is capable of identifying best-qualified candidates.
There is an implied message in your endorsement as well: that teamwork is needed among board members. The four of us have been sharing viewpoints, developing common goals and campaign themes, ironing out differences, and providing mutual support ever since the convention defined us as a slate. This effort can only make us better board members when we are all elected. I ask the Democrats of this city to reward our commitment to teamwork by casting their votes for all four of us: Shirley Thompson, 4B; David Perez, 5B; Willa Powell 8B; and Malik Evans, 10B.
Willa Powell, Canterbury Road, Rochester