Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads_The New Regime

At the July 9th Board of Education meeting, we witnessed the use of unmitigated gall and the practice of privilege by members of the Board’s New Majority Majority as they proceeded to push through the appointment of Donald Ogilvie as Buffalo’s Interim Superintendent.  This appointment was not the result of a process that involved the determination of a candidate profile identifying the desired expertise of the interim candidate.  Nor were there any elements of a normal procedure that one would expect for such an important and critical position, e.g.;  a thorough search process that included posting of the position, submission of applications, interviews with potential candidates or opportunities for public comment and finally vetting of the candidate’s credentials.  In fact if any or all of these actions were taken in hiring Mr. Ogilvie, the process also was marked by a glaring omission:  the exclusion of four of the nine sitting Board members; namely, Sharon Belton-Cottman, Dr. Theresa Harris-Tigg, Mrs. Mary Ruth Kapsiak and myself.

We first learned that Mr. Ogilvie’s appointment would be brought to the Board via an email from Board President James Sampson the previous Sunday.  We were also informed that the Board would meet in executive session to discuss Mr. Ogilvie’s contract, including his salary of $217,500.  Now, it has been alleged, by Mr. Quinn among others in our own community, that the four of us were invited to meet with Mr. Ogilvie, but we refused.  Besides being untrue, it’s an insult that anyone would say that any one of us would be so irresponsible as to refuse an opportunity to interview Mr. Ogilvie.  Further, when I asked the question, when was the meeting to be held?  Where was the meeting to take place?  If five members of the Board meet, then the public must be notified and the meeting has to be open.  So, was this to be an open meeting?  Where was the public notice? 

Consider also the fact that Mr. Ogilvie consented to media interviews days before the Board meeting during which he acknowledged his impending appointment.  That seems out of order, to me. Yet, he didn’t see anything wrong with the fact that he had not met with a significant number of Board members?   Mr. Ogilvie said he didn’t question the process used by the other Board members.  He said that wasn’t his job.  But I beg to differ.  As a professional with over 40 years of experience, he should have questioned the process and I think he should have reached out to the excluded Board members.  After all, the Board is comprised of nine elected leaders and Mr. Ogilvie is responsible to all nine of us!

When we refused to go into executive session to “receive” Mr. Ogilvie’s contract, it was not because we were “upset” women.  We are all conscientious and determined to perform our duties as informed, diligent and engaged members of the Board.  One only has to look at our records of attendance at Board and Committee meetings and participation in District committees and school functions to determine that we take our responsibilities seriously and are accountable Board representatives.  Because we had no opportunity, prior to Wednesday’s meeting, to act with due diligence in the serious business of the appointment of a long-term Interim Superintendent, we demanded time to have the discussion in open session.  In the two hour session, we also raised questions about, the terms of the contract for Mr. Ogilvie, the Board President’s authority to negotiate a contract without full Board approval and the responsibility of the Board’s special counsel in drafting the document before the new President had even taken office.  A critical part of the discussion spotlighted the Majority’s complete and untenable use of their five vote power to disenfranchise and marginalize an entire group of stakeholders.  If they did this once, involving such a crucial decision, will they do it again?  And will the community stakeholders, political, religious, business and other leaders allow them to?  Would they have allowed the Old Majority the same latitude?  I think not!
We encourage members of the public to view the Board meeting on television or on the Internet.  Again, I urge you to be informed and knowledgeable so that you can hold Board members accountable.  But you need to hold Mr. Ogilvie accountable, too!  Finally, during the session, Mr. Ogilvie, who had been waiting in the Board office was encouraged by Sharon Belton-Cottman to join the open session.  He tried to respond to the concerns that were raised and as he expressed later to the press to “bring down the temperature” at the Board table.   But as I said to Mr. Ogilvie that evening, he has a credibility problem that he will have to work hard to overcome. Obviously, Mr. Ogilvie has a lot of the characteristics and educational experience that some people believe the District needs.  I believe we already had the person that the District needed in Dr. Pamela C. Brown.  However, moving forward I will work with Mr. Ogilvie as we are both accountable to the students of this District and the fact of the matter is that the four minority Board members believe that our first duty is to our students.  We will continue to work to ensure that they receive a World Class Education.

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