Niagara Gazette

Local News

May 14, 2014

Candidates for Falls Board of Education clash over diversity, charter schools

Candidates for Falls Board of Education clash over diversity, charter schools

Niagara Gazette — Issues of neighborhood and charter schools reared up at a Tuesday night pre-election forum for candidates for the Niagara Falls Board of Education.

But underlying the sharp divisions between some candidates on those issues was the question of diversity in a school district that is overwhelming minority and poor and governed by a board that is almost exclusively male and white.

Six candidates are vying for two open seats on the nine-member school board. Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to choose.

When Ken Hamilton, the only African America candidate in the group launched into an impassioned plea for a return to neighborhood schools, current school board member Art Jocoy suggested that would lead to re-segregation in the city.

Hamilton, citing his own background growing up in poverty, said the current board preaches diversity, but doesn’t practice it.

“I know and understand what the 70 percent of our kids (who live in poverty) go through,” Hamilton said.”We need to meet our children where they are and save them and save our city. We’ve taken the schools away from their parents but taking them out of the neighborhood. And when we talk diversity, why has their only been one African American school board member?”

Angela Bray, a disability advocate as well as a school board challenger, also took the current board to task for it’s lack of women and those with disabilities.

In opposing an expansion of charter schools in the district, the board’s incumbent vice president, Nick Vilardo argued that “only a very small minority (of charter schools) meet public school standards and testing (results).”  Vilardo also said the charters take much need funding away from the Falls School District and they lack diversity.

Fellow incumbent Jocoy echoed those objections.

However, Hamilton said he believed that every city school ought to be operated like a charter school.

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