October 10, 2014
Commissioner John B. King, Jr.
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Street
Albany, New York 12234
Dear Commissioner King:
As members of the Buffalo Board of Education, we are writing to you with (1) a request for clarification regarding a recent communication to the Board and (2) to express a number of related concerns we wish to bring to your attention. On October 7th, 2014, Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie received a letter (attached) from Mr. Ira Schwartz, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Accountability, regarding your designation of East and Lafayette High Schools as “Out of Time Schools” along with mandates for the District regarding those schools as well as Bennett High School and Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Institute School #39. This letter was shared with Board members via email late afternoon of the 7th October.
As you know the letter required that the District provide a response to your office by October 20, 2014. Subsequently, Mr. Ogilvie, in consultation with Mr. Schwartz, crafted Resolutions regarding the District’s intentions/proposed timelines and options consistent with the Commissioner’s Regulations 100.2(p), 100.18 for East and Lafayette High Schools. These Resolutions included, at the suggestion of Mr. Schwartz according to Mr. Ogilvie, a statement that read:
6. The Buffalo Board of Education requests that the NYS Commissioner of Education approve a third round of charter school applications for start-up in the 2015-16 school year with the intent of securing charter applications for any of the four Buffalo Schools which are in phase-out/phase in: Bennett High School, Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Institute, East High School and Lafayette High School.
The Board received the revised Resolutions on Wednesday afternoon, October 8th a few hours prior to the Board meeting. The Interim Superintendent presented his recommendations and the newly revised Resolutions at the Board meeting that started at 5:30 pm. Following Board discussion of approximately 30 to 45 minutes, an amendment was made and the language in the foregoing was modified to read as follows:
APPROVED, a motion made by Mr. Quinn, seconded by Mr. McCarthy, that the Buffalo Board of Education requests the NYS Commissioner of Education approve a third round of charter school applications for start-up in the 2015-16 school year with the intent of securing charter applications for any of the four Buffalo Schools which are in phase-out/phase-in: Bennett High School, Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute, East High School and Lafayette High School or any other location in Buffalo. The roll call vote resulted as follows: 5 – Ayes (McCarthy, Paladino, Pierce, Quinn and Sampson), 3 – Noes (Belton-Cottman, Kapsiak and Nevergold), 1 – Absent (Harris-Tigg). Motion carried.
Request for Clarification:
With the foregoing background, the following questions are posed for clarification. In reviewing the Commissioner’s Regulations 100.2(p), 100.18; Guidance for School Districts Required to Submit Plans for “Out of Time” Schools
We do not see where the Regulations include Independent Charter Schools as one of the Options offered under these Regulations. Therefore, is it proper, appropriate or legal to include reference to this alternative in the District’s response to the Commissioner’s mandate?
Second, the letter and your directive were specific to Bennett, East and Lafayette High Schools and Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute #39. The addition of the request in the above motion, “or any other location in Buffalo” appears to us to exceed the Commissioner’s mandate and should not be part of this motion, if the motion itself is indeed proper.
Additionally, the Guidance for School Districts Required to Submit Plans for “Out of Time Schools”
States that in order for the District’s Plan to be approved, it must include evidence that the District has ensured compliance with a number of actions including the following:
7 Evidence that the district provided parents, teachers, administrators, and community members an opportunity to participate in development of the plan pursuant to Commissioner’s Regulations 100.18(m)(5)(iii), 100.18(m)(6)(i)(b), and 100.11. Additionally, the district must address how it will involve parents, teachers, administrators and others in the development of the new school prior to the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.
The rush of the Interim Superintendent and some members of the Board to respond to Mr. Schwartz’ letter has denied open and transparent communication with the school communities impacted and the community in general. As noted both the Board and the Interim Superintendent received Mr. Schwartz’ letter on October 7th. Resolutions and revisions were hastily put together for the meeting on October 8th. While the October 20th date required prompt attention, we do not believe that the Board should have or needed to vote on its response on October 8th, one day after receiving Mr. Schwartz’ letter. The Board has scheduled Committee meetings on October 15th that would have given us enough time to inform/engage the community and meet the State’s deadline.
We offer this time frame as it is reflected in the concern we have about the time and diligence devoted by the Interim Superintendent and the Board in making such an important and impactful decision.
Not only did the Board ignore the requirement to engage parents as stated above, the Board also ignored its own Policy #1510, which states:
No committee, nor the entire Board, will act, study, or decide upon an issue unless the supporting documentation has been made freely available to all Board members at least 48 hours in advance of the above mentioned action, with the exception of “Late Items” filed as such by the Superintendent for action at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board. This provision may be suspended by an affirmative vote of six members of the full Board (2/3) upon the motion of one of its members and must be approved by an affirmative vote of six members of the full Board (2/3).
And Policy #1511
The Board of Education shall not attempt to decide upon any question under consideration before examining and evaluating relevant information. The Superintendent of Schools shall be given an opportunity to examine and to evaluate all such information, and to recommend action before the Board attempts to make a decision.
Finally, in addition to the clarification we’ve requested, we also ask that you require the Board to reconsider its submission and allow for public discourse, in the interest of open and transparent communication.
Barbara A. Nevergold, PhD, At-Large Member
Sharon Belton-Cottman, Ferry District Member
Theresa Harris-Tigg, PhD, East District Member
Mary Ruth Kapsiak, Central District Member