The Sun editorial: Get out to vote: your child’s education depends on it
Thursday May 15, 2014 | By:Lizz Schumer, The Sun editor | Editorial
Last week, the Hamburg Central School District Board of Education charged Catherine Schrauth Forcucci with misconduct by a 4-2 vote. That vote came after a blog critical of the school board and its practices, legal disputes, the resignation of the former superintendent and Schrauth Forcucci’s removal from the district office by police.
After a relatively quiet budget meeting, the new superintendent’s car was vandalized and a threatening note was left on his windshield. He rented a new car while that was being repaired, and that car was egged, while it was parked outside his home. This needs to end. Now.
The people of Hamburg are fed up with the antics of some school board members, as well as the trickle-down that has affected that board’s ability to operate effectively, as well as its reputation and the reputation of the “Town that Friendship Built.”
Legal action and misconduct charges are not friendly behaviors. They are not behaviors that we would tolerate in our children, and they are not behaviors Hamburg residents should have to tolerate in their elected officials, either.
Next week, Hamburg voters will get a chance to vote on five candidates, for two seats on the board of education.
There should be lines out the door, so the same voters who have written letters, ranted on social media and applauded at the April 30 special board meeting can make their voices heard in an official capacity. Those lines should be as long as those at the polls in the equally heated Buffalo School Board elections, held May 6.
Voter turnout started out low early in the day, hovering even below the 4 and 7 percent voter turnouts those elections have seen in recent years. But the public stepped out in the evening hours, with 58 percent more residents picking up their pens in favor of change.
That district has been tense this year, with many calling for the removal of Superintendent Pamela Brown. The board has often stood divided along historic lines, creating equal divisions among the citizens they serve. Local church and parent groups, as well as big hitters in the business community and unions all spoke up to get out the vote.
And it seems to have worked. Two new board members upset the majority on that board and, according to all forecasts, will lead to change in the tides and hopefully, less infighting and more working for the kids.
Last year, Hamburg voters stepped up to the polls in unusually high numbers, with about 600 more voters pulling those levers in the high school gymnasium.
And those votes matter, not only when it comes to who sits in those chairs on Tuesday nights, but the overall success of the school and student achievement.
A report released in March by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank, found that school districts that did best academically are those with school board members who explicitly prioritize student achievement.
The study drew on data from the 2009 National School Boards Association Survey, which featured questions about board member demographics, political associations, professional backgrounds and elections, and polled 900 board members from 417 school districts. The study further matched the responses to district-level and state-level demographic, revenue and achievement data.
Of those surveyed, 47 percent of school board members identified as moderates, 21 percent identified as liberal and 32 percent identified as conservative. Additionally, 27 percent reported having a professional background in education. Current and former educators who serve on school boards, the study said, had views about district conditions that were more divorced from reality.
Board members who were current or former professional educators, for example, were 6.4 percent more likely to say funding is a major roadblock to improving students’ academic achievement, regardless of the actual funding conditions in the district. Political moderates, on the other hand, tended to give answers that matched the current district conditions in terms of funding and class sizes.
“There have been a lot of people who tend to think that anything outside the classroom doesn’t really matter, that it’s all about teacher effectiveness or curriculum,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “For sure, that’s where the rubber meets the road, but it turns out that these issues of governance do matter, and that if you have members who are focused on academic improvement, you’ll get more academic improvement.”
The findings in the aggregate suggest voters need to at least ask those questions, according to the study’s authors. “If somebody’s running for office who is a current or former educator, ask them questions about what their big priorities are for the district, where do they rank improving student achievement relative to more holistic goals?”
Hamburg needs to ask some tough questions, not only about the proposed school budget, but also about who’s making them. With five candidates rounding out this year’s field, there is a wealth of options available to voters.
Don’t let Hamburg continue to be the reality TV of local school districts. Leave the entertaining news for Sun Scene and let’s get back to the important business of educating our children and making sure our school is the best it can be, from its governing bodies right down to the classroom.
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