Sunday, November 23, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: The Future of Four Out of Time Schools Matters!

The Buffalo Board of Ed’s Majority’s first foray into launching the plan to disassemble the District’s schools in favor of charter schools has resulted in an interesting turn of events.   The plan was hatched on October 8th, when Board majority members, over the objections of the minority members, voted to ask New York State Commissioner John King to create an unprecedented third round for charter school applications just for the Buffalo School District.  The urgency of this decision, an excuse for not seeking public comment on this action, was underscored when the State posted the call for new applicants on its website on the morning of October 10th.  The minority Board members wrote two letters, the first dated October 10th, to Commissioner King requesting clarification of his out–of- time designation of four schools.  He was also asked for more time to allow for community input into this new charter school process.  The Commissioner’s responses, through his surrogates, were curt and referred us to the Board’s own attorney for answers to our questions.

Moving ahead with the process, the State even offered potential successful charter school candidates up to $750,000 in start-up funds as an incentive.  The deadline for submission of completed applications was November 16th, by 6:00pm.  While the State voiced expectations that they would receive loads of applications from “high quality” applicants, they only received two.  Both applications are for elementary charter schools.  None were received for high schools.  So, what’s next?  According to the State website, public comment can be submitted to the State regarding these applicants at  The Buffalo Public Schools are also required to conduct Public Hearings between the dates of November 17 – December 15.  The final decision to approve or disapprove the applicants will rest with the NYS Board of Regents.  That decision will be made during the Regents’ December 15-16 meeting in Albany.  The successful charters would start in September 2015.  

At the same time, the Buffalo School District is moving forward on its own internal process to determine the fate of the four out-of-time schools, Bennett, East, Lafayette High Schools and School #39, MLK, Jr. Multi-cultural Institute.  The District’s options, as ordered by the State, include creating new, innovative District led programs for each school, partnering with an Educational Partner Organization, Converting the existing schools to charter schools (this is a different process than the State orchestrated one) or seeking support from the State University of New York as a lead partner with any of the schools.  The final option, one which is not an option for the minority Board members is closure of the schools in question.  The School District’s call for proposals has been issued and the deadline date for receipt of these will be December 12th.  Public hearings will be held once the proposals are vetted.  The Board has until January 28th to make a final decision, which must be communicated to the State Education Department.  The State will still have final approval.

The future of the four District Schools and the hundreds of students served by these schools is at stake.  All of us, not just parents, Board members, teachers or school staff are called on to be knowledgeable about the circumstances under which decisions are being made or will be made about the schools in the District.  Today, we speak of four schools but tomorrow it could be another four, eight or more.  I urge the community to stay vigilant and voice your opinions.  Education matters!

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: A Tale of Two Resolutions

November 17, 2014

In the past week there were two significant Resolutions regarding the Buffalo Public Schools that many of you are probably not aware of, since the Buffalo News gave little coverage to one and completely ignored the other.  So, let’s talk about the first Resolution that did receive some coverage as it represented a positive development in community support for one of our “out of time” schools, Lafayette High School.

In a stellar show of solidarity and support for Lafayette students, faculty, staff and families, the Buffalo Common Council, on November 12th, voted unanimously on a Resolution, which reads in part:
“Therefore, Be It Resolved: That the Common Council seeks support from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Education Department Commissioner John B. King Jr. to provide State Improvement Grant Funds for Lafayette High School, so that the funds deliver an equitable school turnaround for the school, students, and community. In addition, NYSED should provide translations of New York State Regents Examinations and Bilingual Glossaries as afforded to other language groups in the state, as well as extending waivers for schools designed for adolescent English Language Learners, which exist in New York City.”

In addition to the Governor and the Commissioner of NYS Education, the New York State Board of Regents also received a copy of the Resolution.  It remains to be seen as to the impact of this show of support for Lafayette.  But it’s a great sign of local support for keeping local control of the school.  I’ll provide an update as soon as I receive it.

The second Resolution was initiated, on November 10th, by the four minority members of the Board, Dr. Harris-Tigg, Mrs. Belton Cottman, Mrs. Kapsiak and this author.  The resolution calls on the Board for transparency and openness in the case of the alleged conflict of interest of Carl Paladino as it relates to his votes on Charter School decisions.  The specific question relates to a settlement with the Charter School for Applied Technologies.  You may recall that Mr. Paladino purchased the former Holy Angels School earlier this year.   Beginning in September the Charter School for Applied Technologies located a middle school in this building.  As a result of his ownership of this building, the minority members of the Board contend that Mr. Paladino has a conflict of interest and therefore should not have voted on this agreement.  The Board received a legal opinion on this matter and the Resolution demands that the opinion be made public.  The resolution concluded with the resolve that:

“Therefore, the sponsors of this Resolution request that the Board vote to make public the legal opinion provided by Mr. Kristoff regarding the issue of conflict of interest and Mr. Paladino and also stay further action to execute the settlement agreement with the Charter School for Applied Technologies until the question of conflict of interest is resolved.”

Needless to say, this Resolution created quite a stir with the majority Board members.  They initiated a number of actions to prevent it from coming to the Board meeting on November 19th for a formal vote.  In fact, they circumvented the Resolution by having Mr. Paladino give an interview to the Buffalo News during which the confidential and privileged details of the attorney’s opinion were disclosed to the press.  This is another instance in which this group of Board members demonstrates their support of a double standard.  Their actions have evaded and ignored the Board’s obligation to maintain confidential information that was received in executive session.  Their goal is to make discussion and presentation of this Resolution moot.  However, the minority members of the Board will exercise our right and responsibility to bring this Resolution to the table for a vote.  As with the other Resolution, I’ll update you on the outcome.

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: What’s next? Threat to Freedom of Speech?

November 9, 2014

It doesn’t stop!  From disassembling the school district to dismantling the structure of school board meetings, members of the new Board majority continue to execute an agenda that supports their “vision” for the District.  The opportunity for parents, students and other stakeholders to exercise their freedom of speech rights at Board meetings is at the heart of the latter issue.

Majority Board members and the Interim Superintendent, Mr. Ogilvie are moving toward making sweeping changes in the structure of Board meetings, initially focusing attention on the Public Comments Section of the meetings.  Mr. Quinn signaled this intent at the November 5th Board meeting when he observed that this aspect of the meeting was unproductive.  He went on to describe many of the speakers as “political plants” implying that they represented a faction not aligned with his and that their comments were orchestrated. 

Since the new Board took office, Mr. Quinn has questioned the continuance of the Public Comment item on the official Board Agenda.  In fact, a move to eliminate the opportunity for public input would have occurred much sooner if minority members had not cited the Board’s Bylaws, which define and mandate the current meeting structure.  Board Policy 1513 allows up to 30 speakers, each of whom can have 3 minutes to make their statements.  If all 30 slots are taken, the Board meeting can be extended by an hour and a half or more.  That’s much more time than some members of the majority want to spend listening to the “complaints” and “unproductive” appeals of the populace.

While he alleges that there are more productive ways for stakeholders to express their opinions, Mr. Quinn has ignored my response to his concerns and comments.  I’ve pointed out many “productive” strategies that Board members can and should use to invite public feedback.  These include the Board’s regular committee meetings.  Held twice a month totaling eight hours, these meetings are essentially work sessions, open to the public and flexible to allow discourse between Board, staff and community members.  In addition, Board members are requested to act as liaison members with various other Board committees, such as the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (SEPAC), the Health & Wellness Committee, the Multicultural Education Advisory Committee (MEAC).  And Board members can host community meetings/forums on timely issues.  Frankly, there are more “productive” ways to engage stakeholders if Board members are seriously interested and will put in the time.  But I don’t see Mr. Quinn taking advantage of any of these strategies.

I will agree with Mr. Quinn on one thing regarding the Public Comments period. There is a need for all speakers to act responsibly and to be accountable for delivering their comments respectfully.  However, at this point in time the tone and tenor of the public’s comments reflect that of certain members of the Board.  As with many other issues, the Board itself needs to take a leadership role before it can demand change from members of the public.  It’s hypocritical and disingenuous to demand civility from speakers when Carl Paladino is allowed to denigrate Board and staff members via email and Facebook assaults.  His behavior is treated with silent consent.

And before freedom of speech at the Board meetings is tampered with, I suggest that majority Board members and Mr. Ogilvie take advantage of all the other, “productive” ways to engage public comment.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: The Plan to “Disassemble” the Buffalo Schools

When a Buffalo Board of Education member promises to “disassemble” the School District, we should question his intent and his motivation.  According to the dictionary, the definition of “disassemble” is “to take (something) apart”.   Synonyms for “disassemble” include:  dismantle, take to pieces, break up, deconstruct, and strip down.  Further, “disassemble” is a verb, an action word that connotes the concerted effort it takes to take something apart. 

South District School Board member Carl Paladino is on the record talking about his plan to “disassemble” the Buffalo Public School District.  Speaking before the Erie County Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee, chaired by Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick, Paladino explained how he would dismantle the public schools:  “We’re going to open charter schools; we’re going to hopefully help the privates and the Catholics to become better and be able to take more kids.  We’re supporting the closing of a number of Buffalo Public Schools and turning them into charters….”  He concluded by describing his (their) plan further as “…the game that we’re playing.”  

This is not the first time that Paladino has spoken of his goal to “disassemble” the District Schools.  In a December 2013 interview with Buffalo Rising, he pledged to make a motion that the Board of Education members resign and request that SED (the State Education Department) appoint a special master to reorganize the BPS.” While that motion went nowhere, Paladino has waged a campaign of disruption, dissension and dysfunction.  He routinely disrespects, intimidates and bullies women of color, staff members as well as members of the Board.  Even with this unprofessional behavior and gross failure to support the School District that he was elected to lead, Paladino has not only voiced his plan but he has proceeded with its implementation with the support of the majority Board members, the current administration and high officials in the State Education Department.   

In his own words, Paladino has made his intentions clear.  But what about his motivation?   A recent report from the Alliance for Quality Education, entitled “Good for Kids or Good for Carl?”  examines Paladino’s business dealings with at least 6 local charter schools.  This study reports that “Paladino’s companies are the leading charter school developers in Buffalo” and details his support of each of the identified chartersFollowing the publication of this report, the Buffalo News’ interviewed Paladino on October 22nd.  He responded to the question about his conflict of interest by saying that he would be a “frigging idiot” not to take advantage of these business deals.  He tried to justify the conflict by saying that he is the only developer to invest in such risky deals.  Yet, it does not appear from the report that he has lost any money on his investments.  It’s quite the contrary in fact.

The recent mandate from the State Education Department for four “out of time” schools, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Bennett, East and Lafayette High Schools forces the District to consider independent charter school applicants.  And in order to secure those applications, the majority members of the Board voted to ask the Commissioner (prompted by SED staff) to offer an unprecedented third round for charter school applications just for Buffalo.  No time was given for public input or questions.  Yet, it’s not too late for the community to ask questions about the propriety of a Board member who has investments in charter school development and boldly proclaims that his game plan is “…the closing of a number of Buffalo Public Schools and turning them into charters….” If Paladino won’t answer these questions, what about asking the State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. or Western New York’s Regent, Robert Bennett?