Longest Serving School Board Member Looks for One More Term
Don J. King of Chilton Avenue in Niagara Falls is running for school board for the eighth time.
He has won every time before.
But now King, 80, is facing perhaps his greatest challenge.
More than a few people , many of whom were in diapers when King first volunteered to serve on the board, are now saying he is too old.
It is time to retire him, they say.
"His time has come and gone.
He should bow out gracefully."
If we want change from the horrid conditions of decline in Niagara Falls, we need to get new blood, as if King were responsible for the incredible decline of Niagara Falls.
In many respects, King represents the voice of experience in Niagara Falls.
He may be looked on as a remnant of the past by some, but others say he possesses much of the institutional knowledge of the city and its school district.
"When I was first elected in 1978, there were 17,000 students," King said. "Now there are around 7,000."
King is the voice of the past and voters might want to re-elect him for just that reason.
This is likely to be, as he himself acknowledges, his last term on the board.
He also acknowledged that some might think he is too old for the job.
"There aren't too many 80-year-olds running for school board," King said.
"I wrestled with whether I should run again or not, but there is more to do, especially now. Education is at a crossroads. We do not teach kids the things they really need to learn and be to become successful. Like manners. How to say, please, thank you, I'm sorry. You may know computers, but if you cannot communicate, if you do not know how to be polite, you will find it hard to succeed in life. Computers transfer information, but people communicate. We have to teach children that, too. Do children say 'please,' 'thank you?' Do parents take the time to read to their kids? That is part of education too."
Over the years on the school board, King has both a record of accomplishment and independence.
In a school district where 65 percent of the children get free breakfast and lunch at school, "sometimes their only meals that day," King recalls how he had to fight hard for the breakfast program.
"I think if someone is hungry, they aren't going to learn."
King was the sole vote against reducing the number of voting locations from 24 to 8, saying the board's desire to reduce contradicts their stated ideal that they want more people to vote in school elections.
He was the lone vote against giving the superintendent a recent raise.
He said it was "common sense, finances are tough."
Over the years when King took positions that bucked the unions, the members boycotted his store.
But he stuck to his guns.
He fought for the residency rule for teachers, against some pretty strong opposition.
"Teachers have to live in the very towns, cities and villages where they teach," he said. "That is an American tradition."
Asked how he feels about having six men running for two seats on the school board this year, King said, "I applaud them for running. It's not easy to put yourself out there. But I think the public ought to have a choice."
King said he cautions newly elected school board members to be careful.
"Sometimes, someone thinks because they were elected by a margin of a few hundred votes that they are now experts in education."
In 2007 King was the winner of the Everett R. Dyer Award for Distinguished School Board Service. The New York State School Board Association President Carl Onken said King, "is a role model for all educators.”
Currently in his 35th year as a board member of the Niagara Falls school district, King has served as president and vice president of the board and has chaired the board’s curriculum, public information and finance committees.
In addition to his school board service, King is a 25-year member of the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center Board of Trustees, a member of the Niagara Falls Public Library board for 31 years, and a member of the YMCA for 71 years.
Voters will have to ask the question: Will the school board be better off without Don King? Is there someone who would be a better advocate for children, in casting their vote for or against him?
He is the gold standard of volunteerism for this community.
King has been married to Elizabeth for 54 years. He has four daughters and four grandchildren.
For more than 30 years, King operated a store in various locations including the Rainbow Mall, the Summit Park Mall and in Williamsville. He presently operates a gallery on Chilton Avenue that features the work of his mother, the late artist Polly King.
If a community is measured at all by gratitude, something in short supply in any town, it will be measured this coming Tuesday.
No one is saying that someone should vote for Don King because he carved 35 years out of his life to serve the children some of whom are now parents themselves, but in a small way it will measure a city's ability to be grateful.
If a Don King says he wants to finish his work, at the age of 80, and wants to bring to bear the accumulated wisdom of eight decades of life and four decades of service with a school, maybe he has the right to ask.
Sure he does.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
May 14, 2013