Overshadowed by the governor's race is an important local Democratic primary: for Rochester School Board. Given the city's heavy Democratic voter registration, the winner of the September 12 primary is virtually certain to win the November 7 general election.
The two Democratic candidates --- attorney Van Henry White and financial manager Allen Williams --- are certainly qualified to serve on the School Board. For non-incumbents, they have a reasonably good grounding in many of the issues facing the board, and for the most part, they seem to understand that there are no quick fixes to urban education problems. They both note that the CitySchool District can not solve the problems of academic achievement, dropouts, and school safety by itself. The roots of those problems lie in the community: in concentrated poverty and related problems.
Community leaders seem to grasp that fact --- or at least pay lip service to it. But little progress has been made on an initiative that could help address those problems: Superintendent Manny Rivera's proposed Children's Zone.
White and Williams would bring different strengths to the board. White would probably be the more vocal, and he could be a forceful spokesperson for the district itself if he didn't use his position to grandstand and to be an obstructionist. He has been a harsh critic of the district and of Rivera, particularly on the issue of school safety, but in his interview with us, he backed off, saying that he recently sat down and talked with Rivera and had changed his opinion of him. "I think he's really trying," he said. We would hope that as a board member, he would seek information before he lobbed charges.
White also wants the district to help pay for non-educational programs like residential lead inspection, and we think that's misguided. But we can picture him becoming a high-profile advocate for greater community financial support of lead inspection and for the Children's Zone and other initiatives that could help counter poverty's effects on Rochester's children.
Williams is the less flashy of the two, but he is no less passionate about the district and its students. Like many non-incumbents, he sometimes makes naïve or impractical suggestions. He says Rivera and the School Board need to set goals for improvement in academic achievement and the drop-out rate, for instance. They already do that. And in a Monday op-ed piece in the Democrat and Chronicle, he said that the school board, not the administration, should handle the bidding, hiring, and oversight of the district's big school-modernization project. That is not the board's job, and it shouldn't be. On the whole, though, we've been impressed by Williams' thoughtfulness, maturity, business background, and knowledge, and he would be an asset on the board.
Traditionally, this newspaper makes endorsements in primaries as well as in general elections. In this School Board campaign, we can't find a reason to favor one candidate over another. Voters probably won't go wrong regardless of whom they support.