The East District candidates made their pitches to the Board of Education Thursday night.
Here's the lowdown on who they are, who submitted letters of support on their behalf, and how things went with their board interview:
Letters of support from: M. Anne Wojick, director of curriculum and partnerships at St. Joseph University School (where Brown works as a counselor two days a week); Frank Caruso, state Supreme Court justice.
Board interview: Brown talked at length about the need to fill what he sees as gaps in services to students with particular needs, including immigrants and students with disabilities. The district should provide better options for students in vocational programs, he said.
The board generally asked the same questions of all the candidates. At 16 minutes, Brown's was the shortest of the interviews.
Letters of support from: Cassie Irish, past board chair, Family Justice Center of Erie County; Lois L. Johnson, board president, King Center Charter School; Ralph L. Wahlstrom, chair, Buffalo State College's English department. Councilman Rich Fontana was scheduled to speak on her behalf at this week's board meeting, but didn't show up.
Board interview: Harris-Tigg called for more supports and training for teachers and principals, which she said would ultimately create calmer school environments. She also suggested revisiting the idea of attendance teachers to help get more students back in school.
Harris-Tigg rubbed some board members the wrong way with her comments on charter schools. She said while she was campaigning in the spring, she was surprised by how many parents in the East District send their children to charter schools. "I'm grateful to these charter schools in that they provide, in these parents' perspectives, a safe environment. I'm not a huge fan (of charter schools), but they provide a choice. And some of our parents are saying it provides a good choice."
Mary Ruth Kapsiak later questioned whether she meant that the public schools were not as safe as the charters, and Harris-Tigg said she did not mean to imply that.
Letters of support from: Ronald L. Meer, supervisor of field placements at D'Youville College, where Leli got his master's degree; Gerianne Dobmeier, eighth-grade teacher at St. Agnes School, where Leli student-taught; Sister Ann Helene, principal of St. Agnes School.
Board interview: Leli spoke at length about the district's 47 percent graduation rate, which he said will hamper the growth of the city until improves substantially, because parents will not want to live in a city with such struggling schools.
Leli was not shy about sharing what he said was the teachers' perspective, which is that the board is the chief problem in the district, closely followed by the superintendent. "They say he's difficult to get along with," Leli said.
He bristled when a board member asked if his children went to the Buffalo Public Schools. "That is a First Amendment issue to me," he said. "I sent my children to Catholic school because I wanted them to learn the faith I grew up with. Free exercise of my religion should not bar me from a public position."
Florence Johnson lost her patience with Leli at one point when she was trying to ask him his interpretation of the district's mission statement, and he instead criticized the board at length for failing to get along. "I'm asking you questions about what you can do for the board. Not for you to give me a critique of what the board is doing or not doing or what the superintendent is doing or not doing," she said.
Letters of support from: Mastrangelo did not submit any letters of support.
Board interview: At 25, Mastrangelo's youth is his biggest appeal. A 2003 graduate of McKinley High School, he couldn't say enough good things about his experience there, where he met students from all across the city.
He didn't have much in the way of specific responses to several particular questions, which required some knowledge of current practices or situations in the district. But he sure was enthusiastic about his willingness to work hard to make the schools better.
Letters of support from: Donette C. Ruffin, retired elementary principal; Elaine T. Blyden, president of the Bob Lanier Center; Ophelia A. Nicholas, retired elementary principal; Yvonne Hargrave, retired chief academic officer and interim superintendent.
Board interview: Many board members know Taylor, who retired in 2006, and it showed. They seemed most at ease with her, calling her Roz, chatting and joking. The heartiest laughter of the evening came when John Licata at one point said to her: "So let me see, when you started teaching, Richard Nixon was president?" (Answer: Yes.)
At 30 minutes, her interview ran the longest of the five.
Because of her more than 30 years in the district, Taylor was clearly best positioned to offer informed answers to many of the questions, as she is most intimately acquainted with the history of the district.
When Licata asked her to think of one board policy she thought should be changed -- or one new policy that ought to be implemented -- she drew a blank and talked instead about the need to embrace the diversity of learners in the district.
The board will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday to appoint someone to fill the vacancy.
- Mary Pasciak