Monday, December 1, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: It's about Transparency, Honesty and Accountability

There is a steady march, by the new Board majority and its Interim Superintendent, toward making Buffalo Public Schools into a Buffalo Charter School District (in whole or in part).  From Mr. Paladino’s pledge to “disassemble” the District to Mr. Quinn’s resolutions to open the District up to “high performing” charter schools, their intentions are clear.  However, just that description alone implies that there are charter schools, which are not “high performing”.  That’s a topic deserving two or three columns in and of itself, but this article examines how the majority Board members are moving, by hook or by crook, to open the door to more charters even as they ignore efforts to support new programs in four out-of-time schools (Lafayette, Bennett, East High and School #39).

A secret meeting between Mr. Quinn, Mr. Sampson and Commissioner King held in June signaled the new Board’s lack of transparency.  Moving quickly after the installation of the new Board in July, the majority issued a “Vision Statement” and hired the Interim Superintendent without the knowledge or inclusion of the four minority members.  Throughout the last five months incremental steps were taken toward the goal of increasing the presence of charters in the District.  Recently those efforts have escalated beginning with the October 8th Quinn Resolution to request that State Education Commissioner King designate an unprecedented third round of charter school applications for Buffalo only.  As reported last week, only two charters had submitted applications by the November 16th deadline.  While that was surprising, an even greater surprise followed when the State immediately refused to consider either application.  Now what?  Of course, there is backup plan in the works.

Mr. Quinn introduced a new Resolution at the November 25th Board meeting.  This resolution allows “independent” charters to seek space at any of the four out-of-time schools.  This writer pointed out that it was premature to vote on such a motion given numerous questions, primary among them:  “What authority does the Board of Education have to give independent charters space in or the ability to take over the entire school building?”  This is an important question as turning over any one of these school buildings to a charter is not one of the options that State Ed has given to the District regarding plans for the out-of-time schools.  Yet this and other questions remain unanswered as the motion was passed. 

Following the meeting I wrote a four page letter to Mr. Ogilvie noting the continued exclusion of minority members from conversations with State Education officials and requesting an answer to the question about the Board’s authority regarding the Quinn resolution. (Letter posted on this Blog)  He responded by forwarding my letter to the State Education Department for a response.  However, in the last month members of the minority have written to the State three times, with little or no substantive response.  It remains to be seen as to the State’s response to this latest letter.  Even so, the majority of the Board continues with their plan to open our schools to a charter take-over.

The next few weeks will be a critical time for the future of East, Bennett, Lafayette High Schools and School #39, MLK, Jr. Multicultural Institute.  Proposals for each of those schools will be presented at public sessions and ultimately to the Board.  Community input is critical.  I urge all who are interested in public education to attend these meetings and let your voice be heard on the direction to be taken for these schools.

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