Mayor discusses possible control of Buffalo School District

Feb 27, 2014

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown is saying it's time for a debate to turn control of Buffalo's Public School system to the mayor.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

The Mayor's remarks surfaced earlier this week while he appeared at a meeting of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership's board of directors. Brown was giving a recap of his State of the City address delivered last Friday. 

Mayor Brown tells WBFO News he was answering questions at a meeting and was asked what to do about the troubled city school system.

"One of the questions, that was asked was very passionate about the Buffalo Public Schools and frustration that the questioner had about things that could be done to turn around the schools. I indicated that I though everything should be on the table, including the potential of mayoral control and that members of the community, parents, leaders from the community needed to consider that as another option for bringing change and improvement to the school district," said Mayor Brown.  

But Brown would not be the first mayor of Buffalo to talk about some form of mayoral voice, whether a full takeover or mayoral appointments of some members of the school board.  Into the 1970s, there was an independent school board, but the mayor appointed the members, a system superseded by the current elective system. 

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed significant improvement in Gotham's mammoth system with mayoral control, a claim which drew some challenges. When Bill DeBlasio replaced Bloomberg as mayor, one of his first appointments was the chancellor who does the day-to-day management of the schools.  Chicago and Cleveland also operate under mayoral control. 

"I have been able to look at some of those models. There have been some improvements in those all three of those cities under mayoral control," said Brown. "But I think ultimately, collaboration, cooperation and the difference stakeholders really working together, no matter what the governance model is, is the most dynamic way to bring change and support student achievement, so they can be more effective and successful academically."

Mayor Brown noted there has to be a 'debate' to make sure the system provides the academic achievement city students need for the economy of the future.  Brown said there will be thousands of new jobs and city students have to have the training and the high school diplomas and the college degrees to get those jobs. Brown said that is why he backs 'Say Yes to Buffalo' because it has the potential for improving student achievement.

But will Mayor Brown look to Albany to see needed legislation to change the rules that would allow for mayoral control of a city school district in New York?

"I'm not saying this is something I am pushing, this was simple a response to a question I was asked at a meeting where I was a speaker.  I provided a range of option and thoughts for business leaders to consider. But I think it is important for the community to be very vocal and active in these issue.  I think that will really set the stage for the form of governance the community wants to see," said Mayor Brown.

WBFO learned that some board members said it was the strongest statements to date that they've heard from Mayor Brown on the topic of the city's education crisis.

WBFO reached out to Buffalo Niagara Partnership president and CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen for her reaction to the mayor's remarks. But she responded that discussions at Partnership board meetings remain private and was unable to discuss remarks made by a presenter to the board.