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Sizing up the battle for school board 

There are 10 candidates running for four open seats on the Rochester School Board this year. Four Democrats will face off against four Republicans, an Independence candidate, and a candidate running on the Working Families line.

            The Democrats --- Malik Evans, David Perez, Willa Powell, and Shirley Thompson --- were profiled in City Newspaper's primary election coverage (August 20-26, 2003). The remaining candidates are: Republicans Craig LeFeber, Ivan Ramos, Michael McManus, and Ivonne Martinez; Independence candidate John Bliss; and David Atias, who is running on the Working Families line. LeFeber also has the Independence endorsement. Ramos is additionally endorsed by the Independence and Conservative parties.

            The most important challenges facing the School Board and the district will continue to be money and academic achievement. For better or worse, those won't be the only topics consuming board members' time and public board meetings. Debate may continue, for example, over the role and power of the board.

            State Assemblymember David Gantt has a bill pending that would weaken the powers of the board. It would require the board to get the mayor's approval of the district's budget format. And it would take votes by five of the seven board members to remove the superintendent, as opposed to the four votes required now.

            Among the decisions the Rochester School Board will have to make: whether it should take what it gets in funding and cut programs accordingly, or fight for more. Although board members traditionally insist that the district needs more money, critics --- including Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson and other community leaders --- have charged that the district needs to do a better job with the money it already has. And some School Board members have been more aggressive than others in insisting on increased funding.

            If the district is forced to cut personnel and programs, initiatives such as lowering class sizes in elementary schools could be pitted against specialized offerings such as the International Baccalaureate program and School of the Arts.

            Following are profiles of the non-Democratic candidates and their comments on selected topics. To view our interviews with the Democrats, visit www.rochester-citynews.comor call 244-3329 to have a copy mailed to you.

David Atias

A member of the adjunct faculty in the English department of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and a supervisor and sociotherapist at Hillside Children's Center, David Atias' main objective is to rid the school district of standardized testing.

            "Standardized testing is really just crushing schools," he says. "It has no real value at all, in terms of [students] being a productive member of society."

            Getting rid of the testing will reduce the dropout rate, he says, and reinvigorate teachers.

            Atias' other goals are to grant teachers more autonomy, reduce class sizes as well as administrative costs and bureaucracy, and to change the way schools are funded.

            Atias calls Gantt's bill "undemocratic," but wouldn't go into much detail.

            "We need more people involved who are experienced in education," he says. "Having City Hall more involved in the decisions goes away from that."

            Priority needs to be given to schools and not pet projects like a fast ferry, Atias says.

            Teachers don't make enough, but there isn't money to pay them more right now, Atias says. On the flip side, he adds, administrators make too much.

            "They need to do more work in the schools," Atias says. "They need to have more non-disciplinary contact with the kids."

John Bliss

A former city school teacher, John Bliss currently teaches art classes at Monroe County public libraries. He also runs a summer school and after-school program, and is an adult education instructor in the Rush-Henrietta school district.

            Bliss will bring trust back to the school board, he says. And he advocates an across-the-board pay cut to help deal with the district's financial problems.

            Getting kids to enjoy school more will reduce the dropout rate, he says.

            Bliss offers 10 suggestions on his campaign literature, among them are: give parents more input in evaluating teachers and administrators; partner with health organizations; and monitor the effectiveness of Individual School Base Planning Teams.

            A city school teacher for 10 years, Bliss says he would bring a frontline perspective to the board. He supports standardized testing as long as other assessments are used, too. He thinks there should be more, but smaller, charter schools.

            There are too many administrators in the district, he says.

            "I know there are people in central office whose primary purpose to me seems to be to delegate and to walk through schools with their clipboards."

Craig LeFeber

Craig LeFeber is a financial consultant with Mapstone Financial Group in Henrietta. His main priorities are to provide better fiscal oversight in the district, including providing a financial report at every School Board meeting and increasing the district's reserve fund to better weather swings in the economy. He'd also like to improve school safety by increasing security personnel and not allowing unsupervised students on school grounds. Finally, he's interested in reducing truancy.

            LeFeber likes some of the Gantt bill, but thinks it should take five votes to hire, as well as fire, a superintendent.

            "It takes a large arrow out of the quiver of the School Board when there's different standards on how to hold the superintendent accountable," he says.

            Dissension will always exist among board members, LeFeber says, but it should be limited to policy and kept behind closed doors as much as possible.

            Standardized testing is the result of school districts' failure to achieve, he says.

            Charter schools deserve a chance, LeFeber says, and city school teachers' pay is competitive with other school districts in Monroe County.

Ivonne Martinez

Ivonne Martinez is a service coordinator for Eldersource, a collaboration between Lifespan and the Catholic Family Center.

            Martinez wants to make sure all students receive a good education and that parents are more involved in the school district. Her third priority is safer schools. Not just addressing violence, but "also making sure that the schools are clean. That the students have restrooms that work."

            Martinez does not support the Gantt bill, saying it's up to the School Board to take accountability for its actions.

            "I think [that's] their easy way out," she says. "They're constantly trying to make it somebody else's problem."

            Getting kids engaged in school through innovative teaching methods will help cure the dropout rate, Martinez says. She isn't opposed to charter schools. In fact, she thinks the district needs to ask itself why charter schools do so well.

            "What are they doing different?" she asks. "[Is it] something that we can try to make our schools better?"

            People on the front lines, like teachers and school bus drivers, need to be paid more, Martinez says. Under the current system, administrators are unfairly valued over employees who have direct contact with students.

Michael McManus

A Laidlaw bus driver and retired claims authorizer with the Department of Social Security, Michael McManus says it's time to put a Republican on the School Board.

            "We've had a one-party system for 30 years, and it's corrupted the process," he says. "There's no accountability."

            Tests are a good tool, he says, to measure student learning, as long as they're developed fairly.

            McManus also supports charter schools.

            "In New York State, they're the fastest-achieving schools. It's a step in the right direction," he says. "The resistance has come from teachers unions."

            Teachers who think they're underpaid should have to drive a bus, McManus says.

            "If they can drive a school bus for two years, they might be eligible for the pay they receive," he says. "I'm a group of 850 highly qualified professionals that are treated like they're worthless, and they do a much harder job then the people who are working as school teachers."

Ivan Ramos

Ivan Ramos wants smaller classes; zero tolerance for the "chronically misbehaved;" more efficient use of Central Office personnel; more parental responsibility for education; more teacher accountability; and to put an end to political posturing on the School Board.

            Ramos is a real estate broker with rochesterhomebuyers.com.

            He opposes the Gantt bill, but agrees that the School Board takes on too much and should prioritize.

            The district needs people on the board, he says, who work to make the schools excel and "aren't out for a political career."

            The competition from charter schools is good for the city school district, he says, but charters also take resources away from city schools.

            Teachers deserve their pay, and more if they can get it, he says.

            "Any opportunity that I have to cut at Central Office before the schools, I will exercise it every time," Ramos says. "I will eliminate a $120,000 bureaucrat 100 times before I even consider cutting any librarians, any teachers...."

Election 411

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, November 4. For more information, call the Monroe County Board of Elections at 428-4550 or visit www.monroecounty.gov and link to "Board of Elections."

To view City Newspaper's profiles of the Democratic candidates for Rochester City School Board, visit:

www.rochester-citynews.com/gbase/Gyrosite/Content?oid=oid%3A2071

The rest of our pre-election coverage can be found in our news archives at:

www.rochester-citynews.com/gbase/Gyrosite/Archive?searchPhrase=§ion=oid%3A1132&category=&releaseDate=

Following is a list of the website addresses for various candidates running for public office:

Maggie Brooks, candidate for county executive:

www.monroegop.com/frame_set.htm?hotraces.htm~mainFrame

Bill Johnson, candidate for county executive:

www.billjohnson2003.com

Mike Green, candidate for District Attorney:

www.mikegreen4da.com/

Ann Marie Taddeo, candidate for District Attorney:

www.monroegop.com/docs/ann_marie_taddeo_brochure.pdf

Jason Crane, candidate for City Council:

www.jasoncrane.org

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