July 31, 2014
If we lived our lives guided only by the information printed in the Buffalo News, we’d be living in an alternate universe. One in which down is up, left is right and the new brown is black, for example. The News would have us believe that the feature stories and editorials on the School District are “fair and balanced”, to borrow a phrase from another media outlet. Yet, too often these stories and the companion editorials distort the truth, omit facts that do not support the slant the News wants to portray and most importantly purport to reflect responsible journalism. The July 25th front page story lauding the New Majority Majority for reaching out to stakeholders and the follow up regurgitation in Saturday’s editorial (July 26th) illustrate this point.
The News is anxious to commend the new majority for reaching out to external as well as internal groups. Citing members of the old majority as among the internal groups to whom the new members reached out, the News lamented “what more the new leaders could have done” to sooth the “still seething” old majority, now minority members. The News failed to acknowledge that the “reaching out” was not a one-way street. No one was rebuffed in this effort. The minority members were open to meeting with the new members to determine how we could work collaboratively in the best interests of our students and families.
But then in the same article, the News made a statement that “Most encouragingly, the new majority has made a point of including members of the board minority in decision making.” Excuse me? Oh, I forget, here’s another instance of that alternate universe experience. The News continued, “The exception was the appropriately fast decision to hire Donald A. Ogilvie as interim superintendent.” The Board of Education has the authority and responsibility to search, recruit, hire, supervise and evaluate ONE employee; the District’s Superintendent. That is the responsibility of all nine members not just five. The exclusion of four members from that process demonstrated poor governance, lack of transparency, violation of Board policy and ethics. Further four public officers were denied the ability to represent thousands of Buffalo constituents. It was a disgraceful act and one that flaunted the power of the five. What would have been the response of the News and others, if the old majority had acted in the same privileged manner? But then it appears that the “appropriately fast decision” was needed so that less than two weeks after his appointment Mr. Ogilvie could take off the week of July 21st.
As always there is much more that can be addressed but I will just point out one other misrepresentation in the News’ account of the “reaching out” process. The old majority is accused of taking an “imperial approach” regarding seeking meetings with New York State Education Commissioner John King. I speak from firsthand knowledge as the Board President who tried to get a meeting with Dr. King on several occasions beginning soon after my election in July 2013. I had a personal conversation with Dr. King during which I requested a meeting. The response was not a gracious one, so I will not repeat it here, but subsequently due to the intervention of Regent Robert Bennett, I tried to set up several meetings between myself, Dr. King and Dr. Brown to be held in Buffalo or Albany. Dr. King’s concerns about attracting media attention resulted in these meetings never materializing.
I think that we should have no illusions about the Buffalo News. These stories and editorials are purposeful and intended to support the agenda of the New Majority Majority and their supporters. Let’s be clear, however, about the motives of the members of the old majority, henceforth the new minority. We are just as committed to improving student achievement, resolving conflicts with stakeholders, reaching out to form inclusive alliances that will support our schools and more, as are the members of the New Majority Majority. But we will not be complacent when attempts are made to exclude us or silence our voices. As I noted earlier, reaching out only works when someone else reaches back. It takes both actions to accomplish change.