Schools at a Crossroads: Interviews with Buffalo School Board Candidates Part V

May 2, 2014

This year’s Buffalo School  board election has attracted significant interest for three at-large seats. All this week we have been presenting the candidates who will appear on Tuesday's ballot.  WBFO, WNED-TV and The Buffalo News teamed to record interviews with the candidates vying for three-at-large-seats. WBFO'S Eileen Buckley highlights the candidates to help inform Buffalo voters as part of our Focus on Education reporting.

"Parents feel there is a lack of respect. Their voices are not being heard," said Stephen Buccilli, a Civil Engineer at Watts Architecture and Engineering.  The north Buffalo resident is married to a city school teacher.

Buccilli said parents must have a voice school policy and programs that affect the education of their children.  When it comes to district leadership, Buccilli points to a lack of transparency that he says blocks out parents. Buccilli is also voiced concerned with the poor hiring practices recently conducted by Superintendent Pamela Brown involving two administrations without proper certification.

"I'm a licensed engineer in New York State. I feel that if you do not have these certifications, you should not be considered qualified for the position," said Buccilli.

But Buccilli was careful when asked by Buffalo News Education reporter Mary Pasciak if would like to see the superintendent fired.

"If you were on the board right now. It there were a vote right away, which way would you vote?", asked

"I would not be able to vote to retain or remove her. I would need to ask specific questions," said Buccilli.

But in such a hotly contested race, we asked Buccilli why he decided to run for a school board seat.

"Too many people that I know, personally neighbors in north Buffalo, where I live, leave the area because of the schools," said Buccilli. "My wife been a teacher in the district for nine years now and she me the dysfunction that goes on in there from all levels...I feel, as a community, we need to come together."

Buccilli believes the District should expand vocational education and career certification programs for its students.

"These certification programs -- was removed because of the state reductions, the amount of hours give to CTE programs. I want to try to restate that," said Buccilli.

But Buccilli admits finding the funding could be difficult as the district faces a deficit.  There was about a 10-percent cut in the Careers & Technical Education programs.

Buccilli is stressing parent involvement and says the district must provide more outreach and information for city school parents.  Opponent Gizelle Stokes is also focused on parents.  Stokes says the lack of parental engagement is a major issue in the district's dysfunction. She's a parent of a Buffalo school student.

"Decisions are made and parents aren't involved in that process. I think one thing that we should be doing is making sure parents are part of the process and not a reaction to the process," said Stokes.

Stokes has direct education experience, working as a social worker for King Center Charter School in Buffalo. In a Buffalo News survey conducted with the candidates Stokes was listed saying she would retain Superintendent Brown, but when Buffalo News Education reporter Deidre Williams asked her about her support for Brown, we got different response.

"Now you believe that Superintendent Pamela Brown should be retained. Why?", asked Williams.

"I never said that," said Stokes. "I've actually said that I think it's important for us, for me at least to be at the table, to have first hand information to make a decision," said Stokes. "I have said several times that if anyone is not doing what they should be doing, as it relates to the students and my child in Buffalo Public Schools, they should not be retained from the superintendent all they way down to the administrators in the building."

You might say Stokes may be one of the most controversial of the candidates that will be on the ballot.  She was recently arrested after police pulled her over and found marijuana in her car. She had failed to respond to an outstanding harassment violation.

"How can you explain those charges to our audience and to a student who would look up to you as a role model?", asked Buckley.

"I know, and a lot my students -- we've had several conversations about those things. Those were all things that I was alleged to have had and I'm not guilty of those things and those things will be dismissed ," said Stokes.

Stokes says any further questions surrounding her legal matters must be referred to her attorney because her case remains in the courts.

Stokes also has close ties to Buffalo's City Hall.  She's connected to Grassroots, the political action organization tied Mayor Byron Brown.  Stokes says it doesn't matter because she is "all about the children" and working to make change despite her political ties.

"I have ties to a lot of organizations actually because I am a social worker," noted Stokes. 

And even though Stokes works at a charter school, she doesn't see any conflict if elected to the school board.   As a school social worker, Stokes witnesses the social issues of inner-city students -- something she believes needs to be addressed by the school district.