I am passionate about education and believe the prosperity of the City of Buffalo lies in the hands and minds of our children. However, the City of Buffalo is in a state of educational crisis. With the public school system’s graduation rate at 47% in 2012, fenced in with problems so complex (including lack of leadership; fiscal mismanagement; socio-economic complexities; lack of communication between the Central Office and individual schools; organizational and structural problems; and chronic absenteeism) our city administration can no longer afford to be detached and uninvolved. This crisis is not about simply recognizing or acknowledging that there is a problem, since the failures of our current system are well documented and echoed throughout the City of Buffalo when the topic of education is addressed. This crisis is about taking action and implementing fundamental change. That is why I believe education is the most crucial problem facing our city today.
In terms of education, currently there is no clear leadership, direction, nor accountability addressing the significant and historic downward trends that our city and citizens have encountered. No family should feel that by allowing their child to receive a public education in the City of Buffalo that their child will be subjected to an automatic disadvantage, notably when compared to private schools or the public school systems a stone’s throw away in the suburbs. No family should have to consider the option of relocating away from the city in order to provide their child an opportunity for success. Yet, sadly, that is the case.
My plan is to address the current state of education in Buffalo by seeking Mayoral Control of the Buffalo Public School system. I believe the City of Buffalo deserves a leader who not only understands the deep and complex significance of this problem, but is willing to take the leading role and responsibility of both addressing it and implementing change.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term “Mayoral Control,” this may sound like a new or risky concept. However, in fact, it is not. Mayoral Control has been implemented right here in New York State, in both New York City and Yonkers. New York City and Yonkers currently have public school systems which are led by their Mayors. How does this work? The Mayor oversees the education system, the operation of public schools, and is directly responsible for the success of accompanying school district. Rather than coordinating with an elected school board, there is a Mayoral- appointed school board. Under Mayoral Control, there is a well-defined sense of accountability and leadership. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg implemented this model in 2002; I believe his model and its astounding success will work here in Buffalo which, in terms of a failing education system, is in the same predicament as New York City when Mayor Bloomberg took control over the schools.
Mayoral Control has been enormously successful in both New York City and Yonkers,
yielding significant, evidence-based results in student achievement and graduation rates. In 2005, the graduation rate in New York City was a mere 46% – quite similar to the City of Buffalo today. By 2012 however, a complete turnaround in New York City was obvious, yielding a steady rise in graduation: in 2012, New York City’s graduation rate stood at 64.7% – a 39% increase from 2005 – with all high school students required to graduate with a Regents diploma. A similar transformation occurred in the city of Yonkers. In 2005, Yonkers had a graduation rate of 53%. Under mayoral control, however, Yonkers graduation rate has risen to the top of all major cities in New York State, with a rate of 72.1% in 2012 – ironically a 39% increase from 2005 as well. Both New York City and Yonkers have steadily improved; in contrast, Buffalo’s graduation rate has worsened. In 2005, Buffalo’s rate was 52% – nearly identical to that of New York City that same year; by 2012, rather than having had improved, Buffalo’s rate has dropped nearly -5% to an embarrassing 47%.
What can the City of Buffalo learn from this? It is when a mayor does not take on the leadership role in a failing educational system that its citizens and children are at risk. It is with grave certainly that we will continue to see our graduation rates decline and our residents opting to leave the city in search of a better education for their children if critical changes are not implemented. I envision Buffalo as the next city to benefit tremendously from the system of Mayoral Control. Our schools are in desperate need of clear leadership and direction in order to implement the necessary changes which will empower our students through a strong, refined system of public education. I believe it is through this system that we will witness improvement in our children’s education, ultimately leading to graduation from high school with the skills necessary to either compete in the job market, or continue on to college.
We have seen that a “hands-off” approach does not work. Recently, the current administration has relied on and promoted the “Say Yes To Education” program as a solution. Though I fully agree with and support this wonderful and exciting initiative, the program in and of itself is not meant to be a solution. “Say Yes To Education” is an incentive and a support. Through Mayoral Control, I fully intend to utilize initiatives such as this to compliment, rather than lead, us toward improving the state of education in the City of Buffalo. Mayoral Control is the solution that worked for New York City and is the solution that will work in the great City of Buffalo. Being an “Education Mayor” is about taking responsibility, embracing accountability, and addressing – not ignoring – our current education failures with an honest, hands-on approach in order to make the fundamental changes so urgently needed today.
I ask that you support me in giving our children the opportunity they deserve by restoring a sense of pride in our city schools. We cannot wait any longer; the situation is urgent. It’s time.
Sergio R. Rodriguez