Did You Know There Was A School Board Candidates Debate?

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By: Amber Hill-Donhauser


The first topic that I believe needs to be brought to light regarding any election (not just on the local level, but ANY level) is the lack of participation by residents. African Americans comprise almost 30% of Niagara Falls residents, yet we only have four African American active politicians between our school board, City Council, and County Legislature.

Overall, we only have a voting population of 37,447, but less than 1,600 voters went to the polls in the last school board election in 2017. These numbers are abysmal, and a roadblock to enact serious change that reflects the needs of residents across our city.

Upon walking up to the School Board Candidates Night being held at the Niagara Falls Library around 6:45pm, I was under the impression that I would be able to catch the last 20-30 minutes of inquiries and stances between incumbents Anthony Paretto and Ron Barstys, and recent newcomer Lynn Neveu. I was sorely mistaken.

As I walked up to the building, I rapidly was scrolling through Facebook pages trying to find not only a start time for the debate, but also a live feed of it that residents could watch who were unable to attend.

Unfortunately, not only was the candidates night not broadcast on social media, but it was grossly unpublicized. In a world of constant information flow, there was nothing from this event.

The information regarding the actual event was never found, but what I can state after discussing with several attendees is that the event started late, at approximately 6:16pm, and that one incumbent, Ronald Barstys, did not feel the need to attend to defend his seat.

Walking into the library on Wednesday, watching all the bright yellow, orange, and neon green labor shirts walk out, with a few recognizable community advocates/leaders straggling behind hinted at one thing; the debate was not much of a debate. At least not in only 40 minutes, with only simple rebuttals and no inquires from the eager audience.

Paretto clearly garnered the most support, ushering in his union brothers from the IBEW #237 and other supporters to fill the majority of seats in the library auditorium.

Neveu also had her fair share of support. Again, there were a few community leaders sprinkled throughout the crowd to listen to the basic questions from the moderator.

No in-depth budget questions. No questions of hot-topic buttons such as gun control and violence in schools. No quality questions regarding policies and procedures within the district administration.

Questions ranged from areas of nepotism, to the ongoing issue of required residency for educators, to what was the biggest issue they wanted to tackle.

Ms. Neveu is in full support of the residency requirement for teachers, while Mr. Paretto stated that, although he also supports it, that he would be open to negotiation with the teachers union.

The questioning of relatives working in the district seemed like an inside jab as Ms. Neveu proudly stated that she does not have any relatives in the district, while Mr. Paretto declared that his son is a part-time security officer for the high school.

Neveu would like to work with students and the community to address poverty, neighborhood violence, and mental health by seeking state funding to form “community schools” that serve as a neighborhood hub and offer health and other services to the community – an idea that has been implemented by the City of Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown, and their Superintendent.

Mr. Paretto is a strong supporter of turning to more vocational education. He believes that students should not be pushed into feeling as though they need to attend college, and that not every child is meant for higher education. He would like to work with the district to reopen the Trott Center and BOCES to bring more vocational training closer to the high school and into the city for easier access for students. Paretto is passionate about the trades being a tradesman himself and knowing how valuable a learned labor skill set can be.

What qualifies these candidates for our school board? Despite Mr. Barstys failing to attend the debate, he does tout quite a resume of being an educated educator and district administrator with experience of managing over a $20 million budget.

Ms. Neveu is riding the coattails of what appears to be borrowed ideologies from the city we continue to be in the shadow of, as well as making a bold claim that she is qualified to be on the school board simply because she is a woman and female teachers and students need that specific role model.

Mr. Paretto stands by the work he has completed on his tenure on the school board, which includes managing a budget of $141 million and a renovation plan called the Stewardship Project of $55 million that envisions “protecting the community’s investment in public schools.”

“The mission of the Niagara Falls Board of Education is to guarantee educational excellence by creating strategic goals which we will monitor, analyze, assess and evaluate utilizing the quality process and ensuring customer satisfaction.”

As much as we need diversity in a city where people are struggling and cannot, and may not, relate to those candidates that seek office, and in a city that is attempting to connect elected offices to those residents that are in a constant struggle and do not have the ambition to vote, perhaps the candidates that have proven they genuinely care about our children will drive those unambitious voters to get out and be their own change agents.

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