In the September 13 Democratic primary, four Democrats are seeking the three Rochester School Board seats: Tom Brennan, Cynthia Elliott, Jeff Henley, and Darryl Porter. Only Porter is an incumbent; board members Rob Brown and Jim Bowers are retiring.
In deciding who of the four would best serve the needs of the district and the community, we looked for an understanding of both the district and the enormous challenges of urban education. Our endorsements: Porter, Henley, and Brennan.
• Porter is an extremely likeable man with a long history of community service related to schools. He is completing his third term on the School Board and was previously active as a parent. He has chaired the Council of the Big Five, an organization of School Board representatives from New York's largest city school districts. He knows the district well and is both street smart and politically savvy. With Brown retiring, the board will need Porter's history and familiarity with the district.
• Henley is a bright, talented candidate who for his age --- 28 --- and non-incumbency, has a strong understanding of both urban education and the Rochester school district. He and his wife are the parents of twins born this summer, and he talks excitedly about sending them to public schools. He would bring not only his experience as a teacher (in the Penfield district) but also bright ideas. He wants the school district, for example, to put far more effort into promoting the excellent successful programs it has.
• Brennan is a longtime Democratic activist who knows school district challenges like the back of his hand. Head of Brennan & Associates, a marketing and consulting firm, he served on the Hilton School Board in the 1980s, has served on the BOCES board, and has been active in Rochester's Maplewood community, where he lives. He would be a compassionate advocate for Rochester children and the school district.
• Cynthia Elliott has many qualities that would make her a good School Board member. She is assistant to the executive at Baden Street Settlement and has worked at Lewis Street Center and the Westside Health Center, giving her a first-hand look at the issues facing Rochester's poorest children and families. She is obviously concerned about the school district and its students and is concerned about the low achievement of many students.
But we're concerned about her hostility to the School Board, the district, and Superintendent Manny Rivera. Asked to cite the district's strengths, she wasn't able to think of any. She worries that teachers shouldn't be getting the raises they've been getting. "Would that make it hard to compete with the suburbs in attracting and keeping teachers?" we asked. Her response: If money is what's attracting them, "let them go." In the past, she said, African Americans "have educated doctors and lawyers with little or no money."
Elliott supports Wade Norwood's proposal to have the superintendent report to the mayor, something that would effectively emasculate the body she wants to join. She says, correctly, that the School Board must provide checks and balances for the superintendent, but we're concerned that she would provide more heat than light.