Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: Another Voice Raises Questions about the New Majority’s “Vision Statement”

August 23, 2014

Several weeks ago I wrote about the “Vision Statement” issued by new Buffalo School Board President James Sampson.  I raised a number of concerns that I and fellow members of the minority Board had regarding this document and the way in which it was presented.  On July 2, one day after the new Board was sworn in Mr. Sampson e-mailed this five-page “Vision Statement” to Board members.  Although he claimed the Statement was intended to “guide our discussions and decision making over the coming year”, the Board has yet to discuss the Statement. However signs of the implementation of some tenets are evident, e.g. the appointment of the new Interim Superintendent.

The Saturday tour of Bennett High School, given to several members of Tapestry Charter School and the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, by Board Member Larry Quinn also raises concerns about the suggestion in the Vision about “expanding high performing charter schools.”  Mr. Quinn has not said why he gave the tour, why it took place on a Saturday and why other members of the Buffalo Board were not made aware of this tour or its purpose. The District has been directed to re-organize Bennett High or face State ordered closure of the school.  Dr. Constance Moss has been working to develop a plan, with stakeholder input, for the restructure of the school.  There was great opposition to using Dr. Moss as a consultant by the majority members of the Board and it doesn't appear that this opposition has changed. The Board will determine if the plan should be forwarded to the State at a special board meeting on August 27th.  The deadline for state receipt of the proposed re-structuring of Bennett is September 1, 2014.

As for the Vision Statement, others are questioning this document and what it means for the future direction of the District as well as the factors that will impact its implementation.  Specifically, what financial impact will several proposed components and actions have on the economic health of the District?  What financial plans are being developed to address these questions? That’s what the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority (BFSA) wants to know.  For example, the Vision Statement suggests a “New Deal for Teachers”.  This new deal calls for a contract that includes:  “increased base pay; merit pay, health care reform, work rule reform and professional development.”  Another section cites “right-sizing facilities; management and organizational restructure; system and technology; interscholastic athletic program” among other areas for restructuring.   

I believe that the financial ramifications are enormous.  In a letter dated August 15th, the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority raised a number of important questions regarding how these fiscal issues will be addressed.  Noting the requirement of the BFSA to “review the financial plan and make determination as to whether or not the financial plan is complete and complies with the provisions of the BFSA Act 3857, subd. 2”, the BFSA has rightfully reminded the Interim Superintendent, Board President and the Board of the District’s responsibility to be accountable for actions that impact the District’s annual and 4-year financial plans.

School Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that resources are used appropriately, responsibly, ethically and legally.  The proposals contained in the new majority’s Vision Statement require the School Board’s thorough study and consideration of a whole host of issues, including fiscal, as integral to any of these proposed changes; Prior to Implementation.  There also needs to be a call for public comment.  I’m pleased to see that others are taking the proposals, as advanced in Mr. Sampson’s Vision Statement, seriously and requiring open, transparent and honest communication regarding the Statement and its proposed outcomes.

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