|Former candidate for|
|Board member, Buffalo Board of Education, At-large|
|Elections and appointments|
|Last election||May 6, 2014|
|High school||Lafayette High School|
|Bachelor's||University at Buffalo|
|Master's||University at Buffalo|
|Profession||Retired security executive|
- 1 Biography
- 2 Elections
- 3 Campaign themes
- 4 What was at stake?
- 5 About the district
- 6 Recent news
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 Additional reading
- 10 References
Bernie Tolbert is a resident of Buffalo, New York. Tolbert graduated from Lafayette High School in the Buffalo school district before earning his bachelor's degree in 1971 and his master's degree in social work in 1973. During the 1973-1974 school year, Tolbert taught algebra and a special education class at Bennett High School in Buffalo. He began a career spanning two decades with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1980 as a special agent. He served in a variety of fields, including offices in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tolbert retired from the FBI as the supervisor of the Buffalo division.
Following his public service, he served in security management positions for both the Coca-Cola Company and HSBC Bank. From 2002 until his retirement in 2012, Tolbert served as the vice president of security for the National Basketball Association. He is a trustee of the Statler Foundation and serves on the boards of the National Federation for Just Communities, the Wisteria Initiative and the Willie Hutch Jones Educational and Sports Program.
- See also: Buffalo Public Schools elections (2014)
Bernie Tolbert lost to incumbent Barbara Seals Nevergold and newcomers Larry Quinn and Patricia B. Pierce for the three at-large seats in the general election on May 6, 2014. Candidates Bryon J. McIntyre and Daniel Rockwitz Reynolds were removed from the ballot after they did not meet the petition signature requirements.
|Buffalo Public Schools, At-Large General Election, 5-year term, 2014|
|Nonpartisan||Patricia B. Pierce||14.7%||8,061|
|Nonpartisan||Barbara Seals Nevergold Incumbent||13.6%||7,449|
|Nonpartisan||John Licata Incumbent||9%||4,930|
|Nonpartisan||Samuel P. Davis||7.9%||4,334|
|Nonpartisan||Ralph R. Hernandez||5%||2,733|
|Source: Erie County, NY - Board of Elections, "Election Results Archive," accessed June 11, 2014|
Tolbert reported no contributions or expenditures to the Erie County Board of Elections. School board candidates in New York are not required to report their campaign contributions or expenditures if they do not exceed $500.00.
Tolbert received endorsements from the Unity Coalition and board members Theresa Harris-Tigg, Mary Ruth Kapsiak and James Sampson. He also received endorsements from New York State Assemblyman Michael Kearns and New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan.
|Buffalo Mayor, Democratic Primary Election, 4-year term, 2013|
|Democratic||Byron W. Brown Incumbent||68.5%||15,487|
|Source: Erie County, NY - Board of Elections, "Election Results Archive," accessed April 7, 2014|
In response to a survey published by The Buffalo News, Tolbert answered several questions outlining his campaign themes, preferred education reforms and priorities.
|“||Cite an example of a school program (here or elsewhere) that you think should be replicated in Buffalo:
Replication should be rooted in assessment of Buffalo Public Schools' or other best practices. Effective teacher development/supports, talent management, and programs that translate to student outcomes should be a priority. In Denver A+ Game Changers recognizes educators and leaders who make contributions to improving schools. Chicago has an "in school court" where peers and staff implement restorative justice; it reduced suspensions by 36 percent.
Describe two or three specific actions the district should take to help close the projected $50 million deficit for 2014-15:
BoE should critically examine non- instructional related expenses; only $.45 per dollar spent reaches the classroom. The Buffalo Public Schools' approx. 2,000 extra seats is underutilization leading to unreimbursed expenses; aggressive consolidation to maximize utilization needs to be considered. Central office reorganization has not produced savings and administrative overhead must be cut. SAY YES offered a financial work out process that includes a highly qualified consultant, focus meetings with all stakeholders, and in-depth remedies that would help eliminate deficits. BoE needs to accept this no cost offer.
List the three most important things you want to accomplish if you are elected:
I'd move immediate action to revise BOE activities and policies to improve Governance, and perform the BoE self-evaluation they are obligated to but have yet to accomplish. I'd focus the BoE on student achievement by policy and procedure to ensure progress monitors and deliberation. I'd advance BoE efforts for direct two-way communication with families that is more than"telling" parents how to help with homework or when events are scheduled. I'd support policy and action that adds teacher support, work collaboratively to improve training, and realign district-wide schedules to add time in the school day for planning. I'd also refocus BoE policy to improve school leadership so teachers are better equipped to educate students.
Evaluate Pamela Brown's performance as superintendent:
Dr. Brown's strengths include the development of the strategic plan and a reorganization to begin to move forward. Weaknesses include unfamiliarity with the Buffalo Public Schools, the pace of change and ineffective communication with parents and the BoE, leading to a lack of support of the plan and confidence in her leadership. Currently, I don't have access to the information regarding her decisions/actions in order to fully evaluate her performance. If elected, I'd act with urgency and without reservation to become informed and make a decision that restores public confidence in the BoE and district leadership and that is in the best interest of children and parents, no matter how drastic the measure.
—The Buffalo News survey, (2014), 
Tolbert published a list of his priorities on his campaign website:
Even though we are making some progress with school performance, minority, low-income, English Language Learners and students with disabilities are being left behind in large numbers. Buffalo needs policies that support the expectation that all students can attain high levels of achievement. We need to support programs with increased academic rigor including: more opportunities for early college credit and honors classes at every stage of schooling; second language instruction for all students; and intensive tutoring for all students who need it.
Children have the best opportunity for success in school when they start with a quality education at an early age. We need to leverage new state funding to create high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten to all of Buffalo’s children. We must provide our children with early childhood education programs that promote cognitive development, critical thinking and social and emotional skills so they are on a track and ready to excel in kindergarten. We only have one chance to provide our children with the tools that will help them succeed for the rest of their lives and far too many children begin kindergarten already behind.
Access to Technology
We often have goals of increasing students’ access to education through technology, but right now we have a unique opportunity to do things like put tablets in the hands of children for summer reading and expand broadband capability in underserved neighborhoods. It is the responsibility of the Buffalo Public Schools and the board to realize our city-wide technology in education goals by pursuing funds from the Governor’s technology in education bond initiative unveiled in the 2014 State of the State address.
The quality of schools in Buffalo has become mixed, some are performing well some are not. It is up to the Board to ensure that our school portfolio has high quality options for all children and it is our responsibility to provide high quality school alternatives when parents and students are demanding better options and our current school portfolio cannot accommodate them. It may take time for us to raise the bar and increase performance of all schools in Buffalo, but while we do that we cannot afford to let students pay the price with their futures.
Supporting Effective Educators
We must work with teachers to provide the support they deserve, improve training, carve out more time in the school day for planning and collaboration, enhance the status of the profession and provide financial rewards for effective teaching. We must also establish a leadership pipeline to recruit the very best principals to lead our schools so that teachers are supported and enabled to educate children effectively.
Open, honest and continuous communication with parents is not just a school’s responsibility. We need to support policies and implement district-wide activities to give parents feedback on how their children are performing and how they can help their children succeed in school. Parent involvement in Buffalo Schools is on the rise; we should seek to strengthen our partnership with parents by soliciting and using feedback from parents about how we can be better educators and become better schools.
At the school level: The School Board must de-centralize decision making so that our schools can tailor their programs to the unique needs of their students. We will support first-rate neighborhood schools and increased school-based decision-making on budgeting, scheduling, staffing, class size, testing, and curriculum.
At the administrative level:
The School Board must set clear, transparent objectives for improving student achievement and district operations. As the governing body of the district, the School Board is responsible for setting district policies and evaluating the superintendent. The public should be aware of the expectations the board sets for the superintendent, and there should be a transparent process to evaluate progress.
The Buffalo School Board should be a statewide leader in transparency and accountability by reporting the following data:
—Bernie Tolbert's campaign website, (2014), 
What was at stake?
The three at-large seats on the school board were up for election on May 6, 2014. Issues in the race included Superintendent Pamela Brown's future with the district and hostility between board member Carl P. Paladino and Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold. Strife within the school district largely revolved around the possibility of a mayoral takeover, the departure and subsequent rehiring of controversial consultant Mary Guinn and the lack of the necessary legal credentials for two top officials in the district administration. After the May 2014 election resulted in Paladino's faction winning a governing majority on the board, Superintendent Brown announced her intention to resign.
Issues in the election
Superintendent Pamela Brown
Significant divisions arose within the Buffalo Board of Education since the election of former gubernatorial candidate and local businessman Carl P. Paladino in 2013. In that race, Paladino campaigned for the removal of incumbent board members and the dismissal of the district's top administrators, including Superintendent Pamela Brown. Since joining the board, Paladino has continued to call for Superintendent Brown's resignation or firing, stating that she is "obviously incapable." In September 2013, the board ruled in a 5-4 decision to keep the superintendent in place. Since Brown supporter and Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold was up for re-election, NPR journalist Mike Desmond suggested that, "[...] the approaching School Board elections will likely determine her future as Buffalo Schools Superintendent." Superintendent Brown announced her intention to resign after her opponents on the board won the governing majority following the election of Larry Quinn and Patricia B. Pierce.
The following table lists the stated position of each school board candidate on keeping Superintendent Brown:
|Positions on Superintendent Brown|
|Barbara Seals Nevergold||Retain|
|Patricia B. Pierce||Terminate|
|Ralph R. Hernandez||N/A|
|Samuel P. Davis||Retain|
On October 23, 2013, board member Carl P. Paladino filed an unsuccessful motion to dismiss Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold from her leadership position. He later filed an appeal with the New York State Education Department and Commissioner of Education John King, claiming that she is unfit to meet the responsibilities of the position and stating that she had allowed board meeting participants to attack him verbally. Paladino then filed a second petition with Commissioner King, which argued that Nevergold's position on the board was illegitimate due to her not running for the seat in the May 2013 election after being appointed to the board. Board member John Licata made a successful resolution to hire legal counsel for Nevergold's defense. Local resident Joan Simmons filed a petition with the state agency requesting Paladino's removal from the board on the basis that he is disruptive and prevents the board from carrying out its duties.
On April 4, 2014, Commissioner King rejected both of Paladino's petitions "on procedural grounds" and due to a lack of evidence. However, Commissioner King's ruling on Paladino's second petition left open the possibility that Nevergold violated state law by not running for re-election in the May 2013 election. After hearing the decision, Paladino announced that he would pursue legal action against Nevergold in the New York State Supreme Court. On May 19, 2014, Erie County Supreme Court Judge Tracey A. Bannister rejected Paladino's argument on the grounds that Nevergold was only required by law to run in the first election following her appointment for the type of seat she held, an at-large seat. The 2014 election was the first election for at-large seats following her appointment. Judge Bannister also noted that the statute of limitations for the case had passed and that Paladino did not have the legal right to re-litigate a decision already made by Commissioner King.
Buffalo school board members and candidates weighed in with a range of different opinions on the Common Core education reforms implemented in the school district. In October 2013, board member James Sampson wrote an opinion piece for The Buffalo News that defended the reforms and praised both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Commissioner of Education John King for resisting public pressure to delay or dismantle Common Core standards. Parents in Buffalo and neighboring school districts voiced concerns about both Common Core and policies that require students who opt-out from the program's standardized testing to sit and wait silently during the testing period with no other activities available to them.
Superintendent Pamela Brown provided testimony to the New York State Senate Education Committee on October 16, 2013, to discuss academic performance in Buffalo Public Schools. During this testimony, she called for full implementation of Common Core but requested additional guidance and data resources from the New York State Education Department to ensure effective implementation. In a "listening tour" discussion held at the Buffalo Public Library on March 31, 2014, Superintendent Brown insisted that the district would continue to implement the Common Core standards. She added that the district would not allow students to officially opt-out from testing, but acknowledged that students could still refuse to fill out the standardized tests provided to them.
|Positions on Common Core|
|Candidate||Position on Common Core||Position on implementation|
|Barbara Seals Nevergold||Oppose||Inadequate|
|Patricia B. Pierce||Support||Inadequate|
|Ralph R. Hernandez||N/A||N/A|
|Samuel P. Davis||Oppose||Inadequate|
Issues in the district
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown announced in February 2014 that he is considering taking control of Buffalo Public Schools. Brown refrained from taking a position on the issue of mayoral control during his 2013 bid for re-election, but suggested that the district's academic and financial struggles have made it clear that, "[...] the model that exists isn’t working, and people are looking for options and people are looking for hope." Until the 1970s, the Buffalo Board of Education was separated from the school district and appointed by the mayor. In later remarks, Mayor Brown emphasized that he would only pursue mayoral control of the district if the plan received significant community support. Replacing the elected board with an appointed board would require a change in state law by the New York State Legislature, which Mayor Brown has not formally requested.
In March 2013, consultant Mary Guinn and her firm, Cross and Joftus, were hired to provide leadership coaching to top district officials and to assist with the implementation of a central office reorganization plan. The initial three-month contract, which was paid with private grant money, also appointed Guinn to the temporary position of interim deputy superintendent. However, the district did not hire a permanent deputy superintendent and instead agreed to a one-year contract with Cross and Joftus at the additional cost of $432,000. Board members questioned the appropriateness of Guinn's contract and involvement with payroll, internal communications and leadership meetings. Guinn's firm cancelled the consulting contract on October 8, 2013 following board efforts to remove her from the position.
During the board's closed session meeting on February 26, 2014, Superintendent Brown recommended that the board hire Guinn to fill the deputy superintendent position. The board voted 5-3 to hire Guinn for a 90-day period, with board member Jason M. McCarthy absent from the meeting. An article from The Buffalo News journalist Tiffany Lankes indicated that Superintendent Brown may have intended since Guinn's October 2013 departure to bring her back to fill the position, despite Brown denying such rumors at the time. Guinn applied with the New York State Education Department for the credentials necessary to fill the position on October 16, 2013, which she received on February 14, 2014. An official with HealthNow, which managed the district's deputy superintendent candidate search, stated that the organization felt "a level of frustration" with the district's involvement in the process and concluded its search after, "[...] it became apparent that the way we had approached the search was not needed."
Following Guinn's appointment, several board members voiced their displeasure with the decision. McCarthy stated that he would have voted against her appointment if he were present at the meeting. He added that he felt Superintendent Brown's unexpected request and the board vote were purposefully conducted in his absence in order to ensure Guinn's appointment. During interviews with The Buffalo News, board members James Sampson and Carl P. Paladino denounced the vote as "disrespectful" and "sinful," respectively.
On March 18, 2014, two Buffalo district administrators hired by Superintendent Brown were revealed to lack the necessary legal credentials to serve in their positions. Curriculum, assessment and instruction chief Yamilette Williams and school leadership chief Faith Morrison Alexander were both hired during the summer of 2013 with only conditional certificates to serve as school principals, not district administrators. District human resources administrator Darren J. Brown acknowledged that his office had failed to ensure that the two officials had obtained their proper certifications and stated that the school district faced legal liability issues as a result.
Superintendent Brown announced on March 20, 2014 that she had put both officials on unpaid leave, but board members Carl P. Paladino and John Licata insisted that neither Williams nor Alexander were actually still employed by the district due to the violation of their contracts. Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold placed the blame for the oversight on the district's human resources department and indicated that she was misled regarding their certifications. On March 25, 2014, Paladino announced that he had located additional district officials who lacked the necessary credentials for their positions at the time of their hiring, including Bennett High School Principal Terry Ross and Education Partnership Organization Superintendent Tamara Branch.
Superintendent Brown attempted to retain Yamilette Williams and Faith Morrison Alexander as interns at an annual salary of $130,000 each, but the school board rejected her proposal and voted unanimously to fire both officials on April 2, 2014. Following the vote, Brown denied knowing that either administrator had lacked the proper credentials for their position, arguing, "At the time they were hired, it was my understanding that whatever they needed to have in order to take those positions, that they had it. It did not come to my attention that they did not have the proper certification until just recently."
About the district
- See also: Buffalo Public Schools, New York
Buffalo underperformed in comparison to the rest of New York in terms of higher education achievement in 2012. The United States Census Bureau found that 23.4 percent of Buffalo residents aged 25 years and older had attained a bachelor's degree compared to 32.8 percent for New York as a whole. The median household income in Buffalo was $30,502 compared to $57,683 for the state of New York. The poverty rate in Buffalo was 30.1 percent compared to 14.9 percent for the entire state.
Note: The United States Census Bureau considers "Hispanic or Latino" to be a place of origin, not a race. Therefore, the Census allows citizens to report both their race and that they are from a "Hispanic or Latino" place of origin simultaneously. As a result, the percentages in each column of the racial demographics table will exceed 100 percent. Each column will add up to 100 percent after removing the "Hispanic or Latino" place of origin percentages, although rounding by the Census Bureau may make the total one or two tenths off from being exactly 100 percent. This Ballotpedia page provides a more detailed explanation of how the Census Bureau handles race and ethnicity in its surveys.
This section displays the most recent stories in a Google news search for the term "Bernie + Tolbert + Buffalo + Public + Schools"
- All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.
- The Buffalo News, "Used to tough decisions, Tolbert takes his time on Brown," April 29, 2014
- Buffalo Rising, "Bernie Tolbert: “I see a real lack of good governance”," March 21, 2014
- Epoch Times, "Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown Wins Democratic Primary Over Bernie Tolbert," September 10, 2013
- The Buffalo News, "Tolbert to run for Buffalo School Board," January 30, 2014
- Bernie Tolbert for Buffalo Board of Education, "About Bernie," accessed April 7, 2014
- Bernie Tolbert for Buffalo Board of Education, "Bernie Tolbert Announces Buffalo School Board Bid," January 29, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Two knocked off Buffalo School Board ballot," April 23, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "School board financial disclosures," April 12, 2014
- Bernie Tolbert for Buffalo Board of Education, "Endorsements," accessed April 7, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Meet the candidates," accessed April 29, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Bernie Tolbert for Buffalo Board of Education, "Issues," accessed April 7, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Incoming School Board majority wants search for interim superintendent to begin ‘immediately’," June 3, 2014
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Paladino to launch major push to remove school board incumbents," January 24, 2013
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Paladino wins, vows to shake up school district," May 8, 2013
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Seeking changes, Paladino takes school board seat," July 10, 2013
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Board votes to keep Superintendent Brown," September 26, 2013
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Superintendent Brown offers job assessment," March 6, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Used to making tough decisions, board candidate Tolbert reluctantly loses confidence in Buffalo school chief," May 1, 2014
- WKBW - ABC 7, "Buffalo Board of Education Member Wants President Nevergold Out," November 9, 2013
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Buffalo District hires lawyer for school board president," November 21, 2013
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Paladino faces action seeking his removal from school board," January 16, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Commissioner King's ruling on Paladino's petition to oust Nevergold," April 5, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "State denies Paladino’s bid to unseat board president," April 5, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "The written ruling dismissing Paladino's bid to unseat Nevergold," May 20, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Another Voice: Education commissioner has it right on Common Core standards," October 29, 2013
- The Buffalo News, "Why should kids just ‘sit and stare’? as parents, school officials debate Common Core testing," March 18, 2014
- New York State Senate, "Testimony, Dr. Pamela C. Brown, Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent," October 16, 2013
- Time Warner Cable News, "Superintendent says Common Core curriculum not going anywhere," March 31, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Mayor considers taking control of Buffalo school district," February 26, 2014
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Mayor discusses possible control of Buffalo School District," February 27, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Fate of consultant in Buffalo School Board’s hands as her compensation, authority are questioned," September 24, 2013
- The Buffalo News, "Seed sown last fall for Guinn to be rehired by school district, state records show," March 6, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Guinn’s hiring expected to create more divisiveness on School Board," February 27, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Board members call Guinn's appointment "deceptive," "disrespectful" and "sinful"," February 28, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Two top Buffalo school district officials lack state certifications," March 19, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Uncertified Buffalo school administrators no longer employed by district," March 22, 2014
- WBFO 88.7: NPR News & More, "Paladino uncovers more school district employees without proper credentials," March 25, 2014
- The Buffalo News, "Buffalo School Board votes overwhelmingly to fire 2 top administrators," April 3, 2014
- United States Census Bureau, "Erie County, New York," accessed March 26, 2014
- National Center for Education Statistics, "ELSI Table Generator," accessed April 22, 2014
- United States Census Bureau, "Buffalo (city), New York," accessed March 26, 2014
- New York State Board of Elections, "NYS Voter Enrollment by County, Party Affiliation and Status - Voters Registered as of November 01, 2013," accessed March 26, 2014
- United States Census Bureau, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed April 21, 2014
|2014 Buffalo Public Schools Elections|
|Buffalo, New York|
|Election date:||May 6, 2014|
|Candidates:||At-large: • Incumbent, Barbara Seals Nevergold • Incumbent, John Licata • Adrian Harris • Wendy Mistretta • Larry Quinn • Sergio Rodriguez • Bernie Tolbert • Stephon Wright • Stephen Buccilli • Patricia B. Pierce • Ralph R. Hernandez • Samuel P. Davis • Gizelle Stokes|
|Important information:||What was at stake? • Key deadlines • Additional elections on the ballot|