Niagara Gazette

May 17, 2013

HAMILTON: Falls 'dumbs down' school board petitions

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I guess that after 20 or more years, if you cannot teach your own favorite board members how to do something as simple as getting 100 of their own friends and neighbors to properly sign their petitions, then the next best thing to do is to dumb down those petitions.

Sad but true, the Niagara Falls Board of Education, ranked the fifth worst education system in Western New York, according to Business First, is indeed dumbing down its nominating petitions. Perhaps it is time for them to adjust their motto from, “Learning For All ... Whatever It Takes,“ to “Re-election for Us … Whatever it Takes.”

When Business First magazine rated our system at 92 of the 97 school districts in Western New York with high schools, superintendent Cynthia Bianco said that it was “like comparing apples to oranges.”

Now, after the last meeting, I am not sure if she meant that for the students or for the board members.

I think that school board candidates, as well as candidates for any office, should be required to personally walk the sidewalks and get signatures from a demographic cross section of the people that they seek to represent. In an at-large election like school board, those signatures should be in some systemic order according to neighborhoods and streets to ensure that they did so.

But that will not likely be the case. After I challenged some recently submitted school board petitions, the board’s attorney announced that they are going to simplifying the new petitions. To me, it is obviously so that the people who run the system can understand how to do something that is less taxing on them than it is for the social studies students who go to city council meetings to get their councilmen signatures to prove that they attended that meeting.

Of particular trouble with the now “old” petitions was the affidavit where the collector of the signatures had to sign that they actually knew and had witnessed each signatory on the petition. Some of those petitions brought me a great deal of doubt as to the integrity of the people who signed.

What’s the board’s solution? Get rid of the affidavits.

But blatantly wrong with all of the petitions was that required and missing column that indicated the date when the signatory had signed — and, according to some, it had been missing for more than 30 years.

What’s the board’s solution?

Now get this, kids. Because everyone got that wrong, then it just doesn’t count. Try that on your next test.

Last July, I wrote a column on how one school board took a high school competency test and failed it.

I defended that board because, as CBS Radio commentator Dave Ross asked, “Do we want our kids to be dumber than we are?”

Of course not, but if that school board was indeed dumber than its “apple” students who passed the competency test, then how worse off would you expect a school board that oversees “oranges” to be?

Despite their inability to properly run petitions, while we expect honesty, openness and integrity from our students, then should we not expect the same from the administration and the board?

In closing, schools’ attorney Angelo Massaro told the board that if its candidates had followed their own petitioning rules (instead of screwing up the petitions that they did pass) then there would not have been any eligible school board candidates to be elected at all.

One has to wonder, given the ranking of our education system, and the way that it is run, is no school board members at all such a bad idea?

I’m just asking.

Contact Ken Hamilton at

Contact Ken Hamilton at