Wednesday, December 30, 2015

When it comes to Urban Students; the Commissioner Ignores Invalid High Stakes Tests

This morning’s Buffalo News article (December 30, 2015) touted State Education Commissioner Elia’s decision granting unbridled receivership powers to Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash.  Thanks to the Commissioner’s quick and decisive action, Superintendent Cash has been given unprecedented authority to circumvent the Teachers’ Contract and Board approval to institute any changes he deems necessary in 20 “receivership” schools.  This action is being hailed by reformers as a “victory” that will benefit the students in the schools, which have been targeted “persistently struggling” and “struggling”. 

As an aside, the reporter raised an issue that I wrote about two weeks ago; related to high stakes tests and receivership.  On December 10th, Governor Cuomo announced the findings and final report of the Common Core Task Force.  Appointed by the Governor, this group proposed a number of recommendations to address what they determined to be the flawed implementation of the State’s Common Core Learning Standards, including the Common Core aligned standardized ELA and Math exams.  According to the Task Force, for numerous reasons, the validity of these tests was deemed to be equally questionable.  As a result, the Task Force recommended that “the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.”  The Task Force did not suggest how this recommendation will be implemented but did offer a time frame, advising no use of the results from the tests until 2019-20.  In fact the “moratorium” on the use of the test results extends from the 2012-13 school year to 2019-20.

The Board of Regents quickly accepted the recommendations and voted to suspend use of these tests as proposed by the Task Force. Historically, these high stakes tests have played a critical role in assessing accountability - that is judging the achievement of students, schools and school districts by the State Education Department.  They were also the object of the grass-roots “opt-out” movement which succeeded in producing an astounding 220,000 students (about 20 percent of students statewide), who refused to take these tests this year. This movement deserves considerable credit for the pressure it exerted on the State, which contributed to the retreat from these inappropriate tests and their equally inappropriate uses.

Yet, in the face of these major developments, Commissioner Elia refuses to discuss how the Task Force recommendations regarding the tests impact decisions about the receivership schools. The Buffalo reporter re-iterated my concerns by stating that “those same tests, however, were a major factor in determining which schools were placed in receivership.”  The article also noted that the Commissioner has been “dismissive” of this issue.  The Task Force recommendation declared that students should be held harmless from the results of these tests.  However, this apparently doesn’t apply to urban students. These students continue to be judged, evaluated and labeled by the results of invalid measures.  There has been no change in the approach of the State Education Department with respect to the “receivership schools”, as recommended by the Task Force and dictated by sound pedagogical reasoning.   Consequently, in light of the Task Force recommendation, how can some children be held harmless as a result of their test scores and others not?  This raises the question of disparate treatment.     

Furthermore, when the Commissioner brushes off the issue of the impact of the Regent’s decision to accept the Task Force recommendation to make these tests “advisory”, the question must be asked of the Regents as well as the Commissioner:

How does she justify granting sweeping receivership “powers” to the Superintendent for schools which have been labeled as “struggling” and “persistently struggling”, based in great part on invalid tests?

More to come on this subject.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

In Spite of the Governor's Task Force Recommendations Receivership Lumbers On

So, the Governor’s Common Core Task Force recommended a moratorium on the use of high stakes tests (ELA and Math) since the inception of the State’s adoption of the Common Core Learning Standards until 2019.  The Task Force recommended that children and teachers should not have the results of these tests used to evaluate their performance – at least that seemed to be what they were recommending.  By extension, these test results also have been used to determine individual school performance.  The Board of Regents quickly accepted the Task Force recommendation.  Nonetheless, the results of these tests have been used and continue to be used to define school accountability, e.g. persistently struggling, struggling schools and schools in good standing. With no analysis or conversation about how the recommendation and accompanying Regents decision impacts Receivership, the Commissioner is moving forward to enforce (actually double down) on receivership.  For a second time the Commissioner has given Buffalo’s Superintendent Receiver the authority to breach the teachers’ contract, aka, exercise his receivership “POWERS”. (December 22, 2015)

This decision effectively contradicts the Task Force Recommendation, as applied to urban school children.  The question I’m asking the Regents and the Commissioner:  How does the moratorium and the promise to hold students harmless as a result of the “poor implementation” of the Common Core high stakes tests help these children or impact their Districts?  Or, as others have suggested, was the Task Force experience just a political sleight of hand and an exercise in the use of smoke and mirrors?


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New York's Moratorium on Standardized Tests: Implications for Buffalo's OCR Complaint

Communication to Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash:

Dear Dr. Cash:

As you know the District received the Report by the Civil Rights Project and its lead consultant, Dr. Gary Orfield, in response to the Resolution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, New York Office for Civil Rights (OCR Case No. 02-14-1077) in May 2015.  Since that time, the District has grappled with developing an approvable plan to address the findings and recommendations of the Report.  I understand we are close, however I must raise a question regarding the recent vote by the New York State Regents regarding Common Core aligned standardized tests.  Consistent with the recommendations of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, released on December 10th, the New York State Regents voted, on December 14th, to accept among others Recommendation 21 that proposes:  Until the new system is fully phased in, the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.  More broadly stated the decision is to place a moratorium on the use of the results of these tests until 2019-2020 pending their revision.  That includes the tests given during the 2012-13. 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

As you also know, one of the recommendations of Dr. Orfield regarding the criteria used to determine student admission to the criterion schools was “eliminating the New York state tests because the standards have been changed so drastically and their use is too new to support valid predictions…” (The Report: p 81)

I believe that the current reversal by the Regents regarding these tests warrants a revisit by the District of this recommendation and by way of this communication I am requesting that the District undertake this review.  Thank you.  I look forward to your response.

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD

Member at Large

Sunday, December 13, 2015

the Governor’s Common Core Task Force Ignores Receivership

After a ten week “review” of the Common Core Learning Standards, curriculum and tests, which according to the final report included “exhaustive outreach….two public sessions with testimony....nine listening sessions with open public testimony; a virtual student engagement…. outreach to hundreds of educators, parents, students…and other stakeholders and a survey of other states’ reviews”, the Governor’s Common Core Task Force released a Report on December 10th with their findings and recommendations.

Overall the Task Force concluded that “New York must have rigorous, high quality education standards to improve the education of all of our students and hold schools and districts accountable for students’ success.”  However, as a result of their comprehensive review and analysis the primary findings were   summarized in this pronouncement:   "The implementation of the Common Core in New York was rushed and flawed. Teachers stepped into their classrooms in the 2012-2013 school year unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the new standards, without curriculum resources to teach students, and forced to administer new high-stakes standardized tests that were designed by a corporation instead of educators."

The Report offers a series of recommendations, grouped by what is defined as major issues that created barriers in the “adoption and implementation of the Common Core Standards.”  None of this new-found insight or recommendations are cutting edge as they echo problems with the Common Core that parents, educators and other stakeholders have been citing over the last three years.  I found the Task Force’s conclusions and recommendations on the use of Common Core aligned testing with special student populations of particular interest.  In an over-due official acknowledgment  that the “one size fits all” standardized testing system is unfair and in need of an over-haul, the Task Force recommends more “flexibility for assessments of Students with Disabilities” and the elimination of “double testing for English Language Learners”.  Advocates have long cited the inequity of requiring these students to take the same tests as all other students.

But the final and perhaps most significant recommendation proposes that “the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.”  The Task Force does not detail how this recommendation will be implemented but does offer a time frame.  They suggest that a reasonable period to formulate and evaluate new standards and tests would be five years, until the 2019-20 school year.

Like the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the Report ignores another “high stakes test” dependent variable:  Receivership.  The Report is silent on how Recommendation 21 would address the use of  assessments in the accountability matrix that determines “persistently struggling” and “struggling” schools.  The Report is also silent on how these findings will impact School Districts (mostly urban) which had Receivership imposed this year, in part with the use of the test data gathered from the Common Core aligned tests.

The Common Core fiasco offers a persuasive example of the problems resulting from; a rush to implement a high stakes program, lack of transparency and inclusion, failure to engage educators in the development of the standards, ignoring research data and turning a deaf ear to earnest feedback and proposed solutions.  In fact the Common Core protests mirror objections and offer valid comparisons to the development and roll out of Receivership.  However, before continuing with this analysis, a look at Buffalo illustrates why the last recommendation of the Task Force provides a compelling justification for a review and analysis of the rationale, role of standardized tests and documented benefits of “receivership” as currently being implemented.

Buffalo has 25 Receivership Schools; 5 “persistently struggling” which have one year to show “demonstrable improvement” and 20 “struggling” which have 2 years.  A few statistics about Buffalo’s five “persistently struggling schools”, euphemistically dubbed the “high 5” by our Superintendent Receiver, offer a picture of these schools and their populations that demonstrate reasons for further discussion of the Task Force proposals regarding special student populations.  The demographics of these schools, especially those of the two population groups cited by the Task Force are as follows:

% of Students with Disabilities – 11.9%, 20.9%, 17.5%, 25% and 24.5%
% of English Language Learners - 40.5%, 14%, 31.6%, 7.4% and 7.2%

For additional perspective, a review of District wide demographics for these indicators reveals that of 34,000 students, 20% are Students with Disabilities, 14% are English Language Learners.   The over-representation of these groups in the “persistently struggling” schools should evoke a call for a serious dialog between the District, the NY State Education Department, the Buffalo Board of Education, educators, parents and other stakeholders.  

Unlike the Common Core Standards, Receivership is the result of legislation enacted by the Legislature with the support of the Governor.  Hastily enacted, the law was passed with little input or feedback from educators, parents or other educational and community stakeholders.  The mechanics of receivership were left to the NYSED to devise.  The law went into effect July 1, 2015 and NYSED has scrambled to develop policies, protocols and a framework to implement the law, while also educating Receivership districts on the law’s impact.  In this rush to implementation, SED has ignored “lessons learned” from the Common Core experience of building a plane while flying it.  Other glaring examples of SED’s failure to plan can be found in the lack of research and data on successful receivership districts and the Commissioner’s determination to impose her dictates on teachers and to empower the Receiver.

The Task Force called for a moratorium on the use of high states tests to evaluate teachers, recommended that there be a revisit to testing itself to better meet the needs of a diverse student population and proposed that the children not suffer any harm "from the tests previously administrated; all of which have implications for Receivership.  Since this Task Force has concluded its work, it’s time to impanel a new group tasked with the work of reviewing, researching,  inviting public comment/feedback and coming to terms with the inequity of Receivership and its impact on 144 schools across the state.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The "Demonstrable Improvement" Racket

Andrew J. Smitherman (1921 Tulsa Race Riot survivor) was a student of government, especially when the forces of government, e.g.  Its laws are used to restrict and/or confound the rights of the people.   At the turn of the last century, he fought the Oklahoma government, where “guardianship laws” were passed to “protect” native and black inheritors of oil rich land.  Even when these children had nurturing, knowledgeable parents the courts were enabled to appoint a “guardian” to oversee their affairs.  Too often these same guardians ultimately ended up stealing the assets of the very wards they pledged to protect.  An argument could be made that there is no comparison between the historical unethical legal maneuver to divest minority children of their rightful inheritance (Smitherman called it the Guardianship Racket) and the Receivership law.  However, in my estimation, Receivership comes close as the latest in a long line of “rackets” to undermine public education.

While there are 25 Buffalo Schools that have been identified as in one or two year receivership,  five “persistently struggling”  schools are targeted as the first to be required to show “demonstrable improvement” this year or face take-over by an outside receiver.  So, what constitutes “demonstrable improvement”?  It takes a score card and maybe an attorney to understand the bureaucratic strategies, which define “demonstrable improvement.”   Since the law went into effect in July 2015 the State Education Department has issued publications, held a number of workshops, webinars, and conducted phone conferences with impacted Districts to explain this hastily constructed assessment.   SED identifies “demonstrable improvement” as being comprised of three elements: a) “Performance Indicators b) Years of Identification (as a persistently struggling or struggling school) c) the superintendent (receiver’s) successful use of receivership powers to implement the school’s plan.”

The Performance Indicators are comprised of a series of data  points or measures, such as scores on the ELA and Math tests (the percentage of students whose scores improve, to be more precise); number of serious incidents that occur at the school, attendance/suspension rates; test scores of specific subgroups in the school population.  There are also measures of teacher attendance/absenteeism or teachers teaching out of their certification area.  These are only a few examples, however some of these indicators are grouped under the heading of Level 1 and some are deemed Level 2.  Level 1 indicators are those that are selected by the State, which the schools must accept.  Level 2 indicators can be selected by the schools, although it does become a bit confusing when the State acknowledges that there are some schools for which they cannot identify a requisite number of Level 1 indicators. In the case of that scenario, the District must identify enough Level 2 indicators to make up for the discrepancy.

In any event, the indicators must be ones that the schools have not been successful in attaining.   The State has set baseline measures for each of these indicators.  If the school has obtained proficiency for any specific indicator, attendance as an example, attendance cannot be chosen as a Level 2 indicator.  The final number of indicators to be met is ten; 5 determined by the State and 5 by the Superintendent Receiver and the school’s Community Engagement Team.  Each indicator has a weight of 10% leading to the sum total of 100 percentage points.  A school will achieve demonstrable progress if they score 67% or higher at the end of year one (2015-2016).  Of course, if they don’t achieve the minimum percentage, they have not demonstrated improvement; UNLESS, there are extenuating circumstances which prevented this achievement.  The Commissioner will have the power to determine the next steps in this case.  Which brings me back to one of the other components the State identified as indicative of “demonstrable improvement”;   the “superintendent’s use of receivership powers to implement the school’s plan”.

I haven’t seen the criteria that the Commissioner will use to evaluate this “measure”.  How will the State determine that the Superintendent used his receivership powers to implement the plan?  Are the actions of our Superintendent, e.g. to request that the Commissioner impose changes to the union contract ample and sufficient reasons to judge this criteria?  Or is the State looking for something more dramatic or confrontational?  Or perhaps, more collegial and collaborative?  Since I have not been able to find a definition for this particular “measure” of “demonstrable improvement”, we’ll have to wait and see. 

I must come back to the analogy of “building the plane, while flying it” as it has never been more apropos.  The “persistently struggling” schools have one year - THIS YEAR - to show “demonstrable improvement”.  Take special note that this is the same year that the State is defining and refining while implementing the foregoing, untested plan.   This convoluted plan sets the stage for outside receivership.   I urge the readers to go to   and download the PowerPoint presentation that explains “demonstrable improvement” and how the State plans to get there.  I can’t fully detail it in this short article.  A local news broadcast boasts of “holding people in power accountable.”   Major decisions will be made, based on the outcomes of “demonstrable improvement” gains in the schools, but who will evaluate and hold the State Education Department accountable for its actions?

As for the analogy to Andrew J. Smitherman’s fight against the Guardianship Racket?  There is much to learn from the battles he waged against an unjust system:  educate the public, identify the harm suffered by specific people and the population in general; plan and execute the resistance.  And finally, Persist. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

It's Time to Refuse the Test

We have a problem.  And have had this problem for some time.  Politicians, Businessmen, news reporters and some educational leaders would have us believe that using standardized testing to hold children and schools accountable is fair, equitable, good educational pedagogy and sound psychometric practice.

We’ve allowed our children to be victimized by high-stakes testing that labels them as “failures”, “struggling”, or “persistently struggling” (the latest in a long list of discriminatory terms).  I’ve written a number of columns about the standardized English Language Arts and Math tests that the State uses to determine “accountability” for students, schools and school districts.  But the significance of these tests bears repeating as the focus of the new Receivership law is to impose receivership, aka the take-over of schools identified as “persistently struggling” or “struggling”.   The legitimacy of instituting this system is tied to the standardized tests, which are aligned with the dubious Common Core Learning Standards.

There are numerous reasons why we should question the validity of using these tests as a principal measure of our children’s capability and a determinant of the future of our schools.  The tests 1) are not developmentally appropriate – reading levels are far above the grade level being tested 2) are not diagnostic; they don’t provide information that helps the teacher target individual student learning needs 3) are not differentiated by student need as almost all children take the same test, regardless of their cognitive ability or their English language proficiency; it’s a one size fits all approach  4) encourage teaching to the test at the expense of time for other subjects  5) demoralize and frustrate children.  In addition test results are being used to grade schools and to evaluate educators, even though statistics experts dispute the validity of this methodology.

In 2015 thousands of New York State parents were alarmed by these problems and refused to have their children take the tests. Their movement has ignited a resistance that sent a message, loud and clear about the harm that these tests are doing, especially to children.  In fact over 220,000 students opted out of taking the tests this past Spring.  Most of those parents were in suburban and rural schools, which are not targeted for State takeover.  Yet, these parents are and should be concerned that the enormous precedent of the Receivership law will have a deleterious impact on all public schools throughout the State.  However, New York State parents are not alone in opposing the subjection of students to senseless testing.

This is a national movement, which is increasingly supported by professional educators; teachers, principals, superintendents, other educational professionals and Boards of Education.  The Vermont State Board of Education recently issued a statement to caution parents about the over-reliance on a standardized test in judging student achievement.  In a November 4th memo, which was sent to all parents in the State, the Board said:

“You have received, or will receive in the near future, a report of your child’s standardized “Smarter Balanced” test results from the Vermont Comprehensive Assessment Program. This report is provided in the national assessment consortium’s format. We are working on a friendlier and more appropriate presentation for next year.

Tests are useful if used within the limits of their design, but they cannot provide you with a comprehensive picture by themselves. The State Board and Agency of Education support using a broad range of tools, measures and methods to help you and educators understand and improve your child’s learning.
We call your attention to the box labeled “scale score and overall performance.” These levels give too simplistic and too negative a message to students and parents. The tests are at a very high level. In fact, no nation has ever achieved at such a level. Do not let the results wrongly discourage your child from pursuing his or her talents, ambitions, hopes or dreams.

These tests are based on a narrow definition of “college and career ready.” In truth, there are many different careers and colleges, and there are just as many different definitions of essential skills. In fact, many (if not most) successful adults fail to score well on standardized tests. If your child’s scores show that they are not yet proficient, this does not mean that they are not doing well or will not do well in the future. 

We also recommend that you not place a great deal of emphasis on the “claims” or sub-scores. There are just not enough test items to give you reliable information.
Essentially, these test scores best serve to show the progress that our schools are making, and to help teachers adapt their curriculum to fit the needs of their students.
As a parent, encourage your child to reach as high as he or she can. Let her or him know that they are worthy and capable. Keep track of how well your child is doing over time and use that information to help your child grow as a learner. Meet with your child’s teachers so that they understand your child and so you can work as a team.
We must give every student a thorough and comprehensive education, and provide the nurturing and support each child needs to grow into an effective, productive, and self-directed citizen. In turn, these young people must be the strong parents for the generations of Vermonters yet to come.”
Kudos, Vermont State Board of Education for providing this enlightened statement about the place of standardized testing in children’s education.   As my colleague, Dr. Harris-Tigg observed, a standardized test is not a measure of real life.  We should ask the pertinent questions about the value of the current ELA and Math tests and how or if they are valid measures for all the children who are required to take them. Until those answers address how the tests benefit children, we should refuse the tests.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Receivership in Action

Receivership (Education Law 211-F (8) I know, it’s the law of the land – that is the State of New York.  But that does not make it a good law.  Nor is it a given that its tenets can be translated into a feasible strategy for school improvement. Yet as of July 2015, it is the law and thanks to the powers that be, Buffalo and its School District are at the epicenter of educational controversy once again.  As of November 10th, the Buffalo School District and its students have been thrust into the position of becoming the test case of the State’s new Receivership law.  The failure of the Superintendent and the Buffalo Teachers Federation to sign a Memorandum of Understanding has provided Commissioner MaryEllen Elia the impetus to flex her statutory powers to enforce the agreement without the Union’s consent.  The Commissioner’s action has given Buffalo’s Superintendent Receiver extraordinarily authority to dictate changes he deems necessary “to make demonstrable improvement in student performance” in 5 “persistently struggling schools”.  

The Commissioner’s decision should come as no surprise to anyone who has been watching her interactions with the District.  During her first visit to Buffalo, after just a week on the job, she delivered an ultimatum to the Board.  Couching her concerns in the reform cliché of “urgency” she signaled her intention to force the District into compliance with this new mandate.   This ruling makes good on that promise/threat (depending on your point of view).  However, the issuance of a 107 page opinion, accompanied by a 10 point executive summary, raises more questions about the implementation and the efficacy of the Receivership model than it answers.  It has also set the stage for serious examination of and opposition to this law.

Since the passage of the Receivership legislation and the frantic rush of the State Education Department to create regulations to implement the law, I have raised questions about the law and its ultimate impact on urban schools and students.    My concerns are elevated by the complacency and blind acceptance of, assumption that, and ignorance of……..  a law which was created to influence educational reform, but developed by politicians to be imposed by bureaucrats.  And although its scope, for now, is confined to a small number of schools, Receivership and its implementation bear an eerie similarity to that of the Common Core.  The timeframe for implementation of the Receivership model is evocative of the infamous claim by former SED Commissioner John King, regarding Common Core, that he was building the plane while flying it.  Buffalo’s Superintendent Receiver has to pilot a jet because he has one year (the clock started before State Ed fully developed regulations for Receivership) to show “demonstrable progress” in the “persistently struggling” schools.  Failure will allow the Commissioner to order the Board to hire an outside receiver, who will be given three years to accomplish the impossible.

Receivership, like the Common Core has not been field tested.  Oh, but that’s what we’ll be doing in Buffalo!  Other districts will have the opportunity to learn from our experiences.  And we will have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  But at what cost to our students?

Questions about Common Core’s development, validity and impact on student achievement are also relevant to Receivership. The Receivership law is not based on educational research:   Where are the models that demonstrate successful receivership?  Oh wait; there is a model of receivership right here in New York.  In 2002, the New York State Ed Department took over Long Island’s Roosevelt School District and held it in receivership for over a decade.  The District was returned to local control in 2013.  And where is Roosevelt School District today?  On the list with one of its five schools designated as a “struggling school” slated for receivership.

So, I repeat.  Where are the models that demonstrate successful receivership? What does a receiver do that positively impacts student achievement?  Buffalo’s Superintendent Receiver identified ten specific changes he wants to make at the schools.  For example, he will now be able to move “effective” teachers without their agreement to “persistently struggling” schools.  But how will he determine who the “effective” teachers are?  Are they the teachers whose students have scored at the proficient level on the ELA and Math exams?  Since 40% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student assessments that seems like a plausible criterion.  Yet from our own experience, as students, we know there are many intangibles that contribute to making good, effective teachers.  Another question; Will “effective” teachers be moved from current schools in good standing?   The Receiver’s plans must spell out and provide verified data to answer these and other questions.  The State has tied this plan to “accountability” and we should demand that transparency and openness also anchor it.

Buffalo is a fragile District.  We have new leadership in the Superintendent Receiver, appointed two months ago; numerous vacancies in key administrative positions; a teacher’s contract that needs to be resolved; and more.  The Board is fractionalized, to put it politely. In addition, we are still required to address previous State Education mandates, “out of time schools”; creation of new schools; and the Office of Civil Rights complaint related to our criterion schools that has yet to be resolved.  As we are now forced to add Receivership to this list, the ultimate question is:  Will receivership help us to positively increase student achievement or is this yet another “quick fix” mandate impacting our most vulnerable students but offering little to change their educational landscape?   

Monday, November 2, 2015

Has Arne Duncan had an Epiphany about High Stakes Testing?

In 2002, President George W. Bush signed signature legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, establishing educational policy that has defined many educational reform issues challenging public education today.  The intended goal of NCLB was to “close student achievement gaps by providing all children with a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.  By the year 2014, all children were expected to be proficient or exceed proficiency, at grade level, in reading and math.  NCLB established a regime of annual standardized testing for all children in grades 3-8 and once in high school to monitor this achievement.

Evidence of progress in the attainment of the NCLB goals is determined by an accountability system called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  Applicable to states, individual schools and school districts the data collected from these standardized assessments to use to measure the academic performance (AYP)of all students, including subgroups such as students with disabilities and students who are English Language Learners.  A consequence of a school or school district not meeting AYP for two, three, four or more consecutive years leads to enforced reform plans, e.g. School Improvement or Turn Around Plans; charter conversion or outside school takeover in the most severe cases.

We are a year beyond the 2014 target date of the No Child Left Behind legislation, which has not achieved its goal.  More and more schools, especially in urban districts like Buffalo are sinking further and further in the quicksand for not meeting AYP.  As a result they are labeled as failures and headed for Receivership.  At the same time, there is a growing movement that challenges the validity of the standardized testing, which provides the foundation for AYP.  Over the last year I have written several articles about the push to limit or eliminate high stakes testing.  The principal arguments are:
1) they are not developmentally appropriate – reading levels are far above the grade level being tested 2) the tests are not diagnostic; they don’t provide information that helps the teacher target student learning needs 3) almost all children take the same test, regardless of their ability or their English language proficiency; it’s a one size fits all approach  4) the emphasis on the tests encourages teaching to the test at the expense of time for other subjects  5) children are being demoralized and frustrated by long hours of testing 6) tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores is a mis-use of these measures.  Additionally, questions have been raised about over-testing.

A newly released study by the Council of Great City Schools found that the average “student in the 66 districts (responding to the study) were required to take an average of 112.3 tests between pre-K and grade 12. (This number does not include optional tests, diagnostic tests for students with disabilities or English learners, school-developed or required tests, or teacher designed or developed tests.)”

This astounding finding, confirming the overuse of testing, is cited as contributing to the October 24th announcement, by outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, of a new Federal initiative entitled, Testing Action Plan.  Supported by President Obama, the Testing Action Plan, seemingly agrees with many of the arguments against high stakes testing and offers an admission that : “In too many schools, there is unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of purpose applied to the task of assessing students, consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students. The Administration bears some of the responsibility for this, and we are committed to being part of the solution.”
Further, Duncan asserts that tests:  “Done poorly, in excess, or without clear purpose, they take valuable time away from teaching and learning, draining creative approaches from our classrooms.  In the vital effort to ensure that all students in America are achieving at high levels, it is essential to ensure that tests are fair, are of high quality, take up the minimum necessary time, and reflect the expectation that students will be prepared for success in college and careers.”

While this acknowledgement appears to confirm the position of many of us who oppose high stakes testing, the Plan does not call for a total revamping of the standardized testing machine that is undermining public education but rather seeks to manage it in a kinder, gentler manner.  Not unlike the creation by Governor Cuomo of Common Core Task Force to review and make “recommendations to overhaul the current Common Core system and the way we test our students” in New York State, this federal “Plan” requires scrutiny and skepticism.  I encourage readers to read Daniel Katz , as well as others, for an in depth analysis of the Duncan Plan.  It is essential for the future education of our children that we continue the fight to eliminate the reliance on and inappropriate use of standardized testing.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Stability, Not Status Quo!

Last week I wrote a critique of the Board Majority’s Vision Statement.  While the Statement laid out an ambitious agenda, little has been accomplished.  This failure can be attributed to actions of majority members themselves, push back from the minority members and vocal community opposition.   I also pointed to majority members’ “falling out” with their own hand-picked leader as a major cause of the failure of their agenda and as a contributing factor to the instability in the District.  I concluded the article by urging Superintendent Cash to “throw this “Vision Statement” in the trash where it belongs and concentrate on developing a plan that puts students at the center of the agenda.”  A reader contested my assessment and wanted to know what my vision is for the District.

First, I stand by my comments and my evaluation of a “Vision”, which was secretly written by 5 of the 9 Board members thus preventing all Board members from offering input.   My intent is not to provide yet another vision statement that has not evolved as a result of full Board participation.  But what I will respond to is an assumption and a charge often hurled at minority members that we want to maintain the status quo.  

The real issue is not status quo, its stability or lack there-of.  Four Superintendents in the span of 14 months does not support educational achievement.  Neither does the changing landscape forced by state accountability measures, a plethora of state mandates and the imposition of one “fix” after the other with little time to maintain successful change (e.g. most recently Receivership).  The imposition of politically driven educational policy, as practiced by our Governor (use of the budget to implement changes in teacher evaluations) is yet another example of shifting requirements.   Additionally, we should acknowledge a series of self-inflicted wounds, e.g. a dysfunctional Board (yes, I’ll own that we are) and internal problems that have led to a number of legal complaints with the Federal Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.

Yet the examples of just a few of the de-stabilizing factors confronting the District are staggering:

  • ·         In 2012-2013, Commissioner John King ordered that we send students from East, Lafayette and Bennett High Schools to BOCES even though the District has successful Career Technical Education programs.  This mandate was unfunded and caused great upheaval for the schools involved and has produced small results

  • ·         That same year the Commissioner appointed a Distinguished Educator.  After 3 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant fees, we are hard pressed to identify the positive outcomes of this work

  • ·         The Commissioner designated 4 schools as out of time; requiring the District to phase them out, start new programs or close them.  A 5th school was identified this year.  In addition to consuming enormous staff time and resources in the development of new programs, our inability to accept 9th graders in 4 of these schools created a seat shortage for incoming Freshmen this year

  • ·         Johns Hopkins, the State approved Educational Partner to turn around East and Lafayette pulled out of both schools on short notice during the 2013-2014 year, forcing a restructuring of the plans for those schools and a set-back of any progress made during their tenure

  • ·         The State’s emphasis on high stakes testing, used to label failing  and good standing schools, threatens to create a learning environment where test prep gobbles up more teaching time

  • ·         The Governor has ordered a re-assessment of the Common Core implementation; in the meantime schools are still required to manage educational programming using these questionable standards and their accompanying standardized tests

  • ·         This year, under a new legislative mandate, the State has named 25 schools for Receivership; the Superintendent is given more authority but he only has one to two years to show “demonstrable progress” in schools that the State has said have been failing for 7 to 10 years

·         And if that’s not enough:  The District has critical staff vacancies in the positions of Chief Financial Officer, Deputy Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer.  The District also has to respond to serious findings by the Office of Civil Rights that will require the expansion and creation of more access to Criterion Schools for children of color

Before anyone rushes to say that I’m making excuses.  Every urban district in the state is struggling with most of these problems.  In fact, Rochester’s and Syracuse’s student proficiency is far below that of Buffalo.  Yet, we have the singular distinction of being identified as the poster child for failed Districts.  Arguably, we can do better.  But we need the time.

If I were to hazard a “vision”, it would be that the District would be given that time.  The Superintendent needs time to establish his team, to develop a strategic plan, to build on successes and implement current achievable plans, to focus on student-centered programming and to create a collaboration with the Board.  Of course the reality isn’t that simple and the “work” as Dr. Cash describes it will proceed under the conditions we are given. 

Stability is key. I don’t know anyone who really thinks that a strong foundation can be built on shifting sands.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Board Majority’s Reform Vision: Dream or Nightmare?

How many of you remember the “Vision for Buffalo Public Education”?  That was the document issued by the “new” Board majority in July 2014 shortly after their takeover.  This document was supposed to guide the reform agenda of the Board majority and, in a 5 year period produce “a robust portfolio of high performing schools”.  Elements of this agenda included the promise to create a range of options for parents to choose to educate their child – a) high performing charters b) expansion of criterion schools c) expansion of high demand CTE programs d) possible creation of a Recovery District for lowest performing schools e) transfer agreements to send Buffalo students to suburban schools f) creation of “opportunity scholarships” aka vouchers to use at private schools.

In addition, the “Vision” proposed to initiate changes in organizational and fiscal “structural realignment” that would improve management and more efficiently drive money to the classroom; teacher incentives; engage stakeholders, principally by creating a non-voting Board seat for a member of the DPCC and other activities focused on the relationship with the DPCC.  A central element to insure the success of this plan was dependent on the hiring of an Interim Superintendent, who had the experience, insider knowledge, positive relationship with the State Education Department and, most importantly, a philosophy in line with that of the Board majority.  Of course, the qualifications of the Interim Superintendent were tailored to those of the hand-picked appointee, Donald Ogilvie.  Mr. Ogilvie was waiting in the wings and named to the position shortly after the publication of the “Vision Statement.”  Awarded a two-year contract, Mr. Ogilvie was to lay the groundwork for the plan, develop strategies to initiate the “Vision’s” proposals and facilitate the Majority’s goals and objectives.  

A year and a half later, what of the “Vision”?  And what’s been accomplished?

Less than a year into the plan, Mr. Ogilvie the central architect, found himself under attack.  Members of the New Majority accused him of moving too slowly and not aggressively implementing their objectives, such as increasing the charter school footprint in the District.  A hidden power struggle between Mr. Ogilvie and Mr. Paladino, in particular, erupted into an open conflict when Paladino threatened to fire Ogilvie unless he resigned.  Citing Ogilvie’s “betrayal” of the Majority’s agenda, Mr. Paladino launched his own advocacy campaign, to appoint the next Superintendent – a principal.  By July 2015, the District was again without a Superintendent, leading to the appointment of HR Director Darren Brown as the third Interim in 12 months.  The District lost precious months in the search for a new Superintendent as the majority refused to engage in an open and inclusive process.  Even after the agreement to open a national search, Paladino refused to participate and continued to advocate for his own internal candidates.  The hiring of current Superintendent Kriner Cash was accompanied by some threats and insults from Mr. Paladino, who has begrudgingly accepted Dr. Cash.

Oh, and what of the plan to increase charter schools in the District?   An attempt to give selected charter schools existing Buffalo school buildings was proposed by Mr. Quinn in January of this year.  It led to a protracted process during which three charters requested to takeover Bennett High School and MLK Multi-Cultural Institute.  Never mind that these buildings had children in them who the charters would not be taking or that they wanted the buildings for free.  Resistance from the community and minority board members coupled with the failure of the majority to undertake due diligence ended this attempt to undermine our District, for now.  After much wasted time and talent, the Board was informed by the Corporation Counsel (thanks to Mrs. Cottman’s initiative) that the Buffalo Board is not authorized to dispose of school buildings.  Closed buildings must be returned to the City.  Consequently the charters would have to negotiate with the City, not the Board, for use of any school buildings.

And that goal to have transfer agreements with suburban schools?  Just the mention of this idea in a Buffalo News article resulted in a flurry of hateful, hostile and racist comments opposing the suggestion.

Then there is the Office of Civil Rights mandate to increase equitable access to Buffalo’s Criterion schools.  Ironically, one of the “Vision’s” goal states “Approximately 2,000 children apply but are denied admission to City Honors, Olmsted, da Vinci and Hutch Tech. The high demand for these schools makes a strong case for their expansion. The Board should plan to increase this option by 800 seats by 2015-2016.” Yet Mr. Paladino’s response to the serious matter of the OCR finding has been to publicly denigrate the consultant who recommended solutions to address documented disparities.   He has also repeatedly questioned the authority and jurisdiction of the Office of Civil Rights.  This behavior has not gone unnoticed by the OCR.  Dr. Orfield, the consultant, provided a written response questioning the failure to comprehend the magnitude of the problem and the lack of civility.  Mr. Paladino has created an environment that has made it difficult for the District to comply with the OCR requirement for a plan that addresses the finding of inequity for children of color in this District and contradicts his “Vision Statement’s” own goal.

There’s not enough space to fully critique the reform agenda proposed in the Majority’s “Vision Statement”.  The  “Vision Statement” proposed numerous objectives “to break the cycle of educational failure”.  Instead outcomes produced by the actions of the Board majority have resulted in undermining the District’s stability, increasing organizational dysfunction, micromanagement by Board members, and poor staff morale to name a few.  And now there is infighting between majority Board members that exacerbates Board instability.  It would seem that, under their management, the Board majority’s vision; a dream for “high performing schools” has been turned into a nightmare plan for disassembling a school district.  Perhaps that was the goal all along.  Dr. Cash would be well advised to throw this “Vision Statement” in the trash where it belongs and concentrate on developing a plan that puts students at the center of the agenda.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Response to the Paladino Motions of October 9 2015

To:  Buffalo Board of Education and Kriner Cash, Superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools
From:  Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD, At-Large Member of the Board
Date:  October 14, 2015
CC:  Community Stakeholders
Re:  For the Record:  Response to the Proposed Motions of Carl P. Paladino

The following comments, in red, respond to the motions/resolutions submitted by Board member Paladino in the attached memo of October 9, 2015.  The BOE has a set of By-laws to govern its policy decisions and expectations about Board member ethics and responsibilities.  Mr. Paladino prefers to ignore those by-laws and to make up his own rules.  However, with respect to many of these motions, before the Board can consider them it should practice due diligence in gathering information as required by the following:

According to the Board By-laws: Policy 1510
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

Board 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.

To:       Buffalo Board of Education (BOE) and Kriner Cash, Superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools
From:  Carl P. Paladino
Date:   October 9, 2015
Cc:      Everybody else
Re:      Agenda for the October 14, 2015 meeting of the Board of Education (BOE)

I move the following resolutions:

1.)  Item # 51; Motion # 56.  Attendance. 

Whereas, we note the hypocrisy of the ex-parte action of minority members to cancel the committee meetings of the BOE scheduled for October 7, 2015, so they could attend their free vacations to California paid for by the BPS leaving hanging vital and urgent matters that were to be discussed for the next Board meeting, and 

Whereas, the attendance problems in the BPS are at a critical stage, many children have not even shown up for their first class of this school year and the Buffalo News has reported extensively on the attendance tragedy.

Now therefore, be it resolved that the Superintendent shall:

A.). Notwithstanding any prior instruction, instruct all teachers, supervised by their principals, to take the actual attendance of all students in all classes during the school day and enter truthful information into the BPS computer system, and

B.). Notwithstanding any prior instruction, including the use of restorative justice, instruct principals and teachers to develop individual case studies on children frequently absent and discipline students who are chronically absent strictly under the terms of the Student Code Of Conduct policy, and, in the most severe cases, where parents are found to be culpable, file charges with the Buffalo Police Department and/or Child Protective Services and prosecute irresponsible parents for failure to ensure that their children attend school, and

C.) Modify the present attendance program which provides that unless marked absent a student is presumed to be present.  To obtain accurate attendance records on individual students to inform parents and or prosecute, the program shall henceforth provide that a child is presumed absent unless specifically marked present by the teacher.

The cancellation of the student achievement committee on October 7th is the second or third time in almost three years since Dr. Harris-Tigg began to chair this Committee that the meeting was cancelled.

While two Committees are scheduled to meet on the same day, each is an independent committee not restricted by the other. The cancellation of the October 7th Student Support Committee was not required because the other committee was not meeting.  The cancellation of the Student Support Committee was the choice and the decision of Ms. Pierce, the Chair.  It did not have to be cancelled because two members were going to be absent.  Seven Board members were still able to attend.  And if the subject was of such great importance as indicated by Mr. Paladino then he should have insisted that the Committee meeting take place.

In fact, neither Mr. Paladino nor Mr. Quinn has attended Student Support Committee or Student Achievement Committee meetings for the last few months. Their absence has been noticeable including comment from the Buffalo News reporters who regularly attend these meetings.  Furthermore, these meetings have proceeded without their attendance.  Other important topics, such as Reports on Special Education Related to Student Achievement; Physical Education Updates; Over Age, Under Credited Programs; Assessment Scores have been the subject of Committee agenda.  These subjects are as timely and important as the attendance issue and require Board member knowledge and comprehension as we make policy and budget decisions.   

Mr. Paladino’s sudden attention and concern about board member attendance at committee meetings that both he and Mr. Quinn want to eliminate is another example of his own hypocrisy, distortion of the truth, lack of attention to detailed information, failure to cite accurate data, and continued harassment and bullying of the African American Women on the Board.

As for the Absenteeism problem, surprisingly Mr. Paladino and I agree that the District has a serious problem that needs to be addressed, although I question his claims about the documentation of attendance.  In order to develop an Attendance Policy, the Board should have much more information than the anecdotal information that Mr. Paladino is fond of touting.

Mr. Paladino also regularly makes incendiary statements to get attention and to distract from the nature of the problems.  The proposal to threaten parents with Child Protective Services or Police arrests (e.g. File charges with the Buffalo Police Department and/or Child Protective Services and prosecute irresponsible parents for failure to ensure that their children attend school”) is punitive and will create a school environment that is hostile, re-enforcing the negative views that some parents have of our schools.  As has been pointed out regarding the motions in this litany of directives Mr. Paladino wants to dictate to the Board and Administration, this motion is presented absent factual information that substantiates the Mr. Paladino’s claims.  If he has data then it should be offered to support these motions/directives that have serious ramifications for our school community.   

2.)  Item #52.  Motion #57.  Appointment, hiring and promotion practices and Tenure. I move that:

A.)  all teachers in the BPS be advised that when administrators from their schools are being considered or evaluated for tenure, they should report their concerns to any member of the BOE and further report any retaliation or recrimination from minority board members or staff that may result, and

B.) the administration contract the services of an auditor to investigate the Human Resources division of the BPS with respect to its practices concerning the appointment, hiring and promotion of  BPS staff for the past five years, including specifically the records, evaluations, interview documents and notes relevant to such decisions and actions to determine whether or not equitable, just, best practices were followed especially with reference to the granting of tenure to Principals or assistant Principals, and

C.) that a notice be sent to all teachers, administrators and other staff that they shall report to any BOE member any complaints they may have with reference to decisions made with respect to hiring, appointments and promotions that they consider to have been done improperly and not based on merit but instead on friends and family relationships.

This motion and its directives are totally out of line with the authority that Board members.  The Board has one employee that it oversees and evaluates: the Superintendent.  This motion encourages micromanagement and sets up inappropriate, divisive and disruptive communication between Board members and staff members about operational and personnel issues.  It undermines the supervisor/supervisee relationship and supports dysfunctional Board/staff relations. 

A legal opinion is requested, from Mr. Kristoff, the Board’s Special Counsel regarding the legality of these directives vis à vis New York State Education Law.

3.)  Item # 54.  Motion #59.  Neighborhood Schools. 

Whereas, the BPS spends over $55 million a year on busing elementary students, and;

Whereas, many young children spend too many hours commuting to school each day;

Whereas, most children are bused from a neighborhood with a focus or priority school to another neighborhood with a focus or priority school;

Whereas, busing young children to schools miles from their home leads to high absenteeism, and parent disengagement

Whereas, transporting children from the familiar surroundings of their own neighborhoods creates barriers to parental and student participation in school and after school interaction with teachers and community programs;

Whereas, neighborhood schools have been proven to encourage parent participation in the education of their children, and the community and parents have overwhelmingly indicated their support and desire to return to Neighborhood Schools,

Therefore be it resolved that the Superintendent will prepare a plan to submit to SED for a model program consisting of up to 10 elementary schools in various districts in the city to be designated as neighborhood schools.

This motion makes a lot of suppositional statements that are not verified by data or information that supports these sweeping assumptions.  Any discussion about the establishment of neighborhood schools should come with substantial data on issues such as individual school demographics especially in the schools proposed as the neighborhood schools, the impact of busing on school attendance and student achievement, parental engagement, Choice, etc (again, many of the statements made in this motion are anecdotal and this subject is too important to rely on a few stories). 

Given the District’s recent OCR mandate, it will be extremely important to make certain that we are not creating another situation that may result in a similar action.  The study should be done before a request to establish neighborhood schools is made to SED. This motion should be sent to Committee where this information could be presented to the full Board for ultimate decision.  Public comment must be invited and included before instituting this major change.

4.)  Item # 55.  Motion #60.  SEED Schools.


A). Many of the students in the BPS are from highly at risk homes or are characterized as homeless, and

B).  Statistics bear out that without appropriate guidance, nutrition, discipline, development of study habits and exercise from a young age such "at risk" students are not given a fair opportunity for education and become doomed to failed lives. 

C). SEED schools are residential schools and nationally they have provided an answer, other than finger pointing at the failure of parents who in most cases are victims of the same dysfunctional society and school systems that their children are in. 

I move that the Superintendent prepare a plan to seek funding from the NYS Education Department for a model program to develop a Seed school in the BPS.

This is another example of a motion that lacks substantive information.  It should be sent to committee for further data gathering and Board and community discussion.  The District is under numerous mandates to establish new criterion schools, improve receivership schools, and on and on and on.  In a District that has a new Superintendent and is still without key administrative staff, the question is, Do we have the capacity to embark on this activity?  This is a pet project of Mr. Paladino.

5.). Barbara Nevergold-- 

Whereas, Ms Nevergold intentionally and deliberately has violated her fiduciary duties in her attempts to terminate the investigation of the Joint Schools Construction Project (see attached memo),

Now Therefore, I move that the BOE declare Ms Nevergold in conflict for all matters having to do with the Joint Schools Construction Project and require her to recuse herself from any further deliberations on the same.

Contrary to Mr. Paladino’s assertions, I have fulfilled my fiduciary obligations by questioning the attempt of Board members Paladino and Quinn to summarily dissolve the Joint Schools Construction Board and declare the Board of Education the sole fiduciary body for the Joint Schools Construction Project going forward.  The JSC Board was created by the State Legislature.  This action was further supported by a change in the Buffalo City Charter.  My questions have been about the locus of legal authority to make decisions about the dissolution of the JSC Board and the investiture of the JSC Board authority with the Buffalo Board of Education.

I have, in no way interfered with any investigation as my actions have been to seek information in response to Mr. Paladino’s Resolution at the September 23rd. Board meeting,  which would have made the Board responsible for the Joint Schools Project.  What is at stake is a major fiduciary burden that would be assumed by the Board of Education.  Mr. Paladino and Mr. Quinn are willing to allow these questions to go unanswered and to have the Board launch a costly forensic audit and possible lawsuit.  The Board minority was not willing to vote blindly for such a resolution.  Demanding answers is fulfilling our fiduciary responsibilities.

I and the other minority Board members have asked, in writing, for a legal opinion.  We have written to the Mayor (no response), the Corporation Counsel (they report to the Mayor and responded that they could not respond to the specific questions asked in the email), JSC Attorneys from Harter Secrest & Emery LLP (they also could not respond as they report to the Mayor) and to the Harter, Secrest & Emery LLP Attorney hired by the Board to investigate LP Ciminelli, who responded that questions about the dissolution of the Joint Schools Construction Board were not part of their engagement letter, so they could not respond.  The Board’s Special Counsel, Karl Kristoff, Esq. could not respond because of a perceived conflict of interest.  His law firm, Hodgson Russ LLP represents the Ciminelli Company.

We are still seeking answers to the questions:

Who has the authority to dissolve the Joint Schools Construction Board?
Who has the authority to make the Board of Education the principal for the Joint Schools Project going forward?
What is the fiduciary liability for the Buffalo School District?
What are legal ramifications would accompany this responsibility?

Furthermore, Mr. Paladino originally cited my one year membership on the JSC Board as the reason for the demand that I recuse myself from any actions on this matter.  That demand was dropped once he learned that Mr. McCarthy had also been a member of the JSC Board during his term of office and would be subject to the same recusal as being required of me.

I am requesting legal representation in this matter as it is obvious that Mr. Paladino has targeted me for discriminatory actions and will use any means to bully and harass me.

6.). Sargent at Arms--

I move that the BOE appoint a Sargent at Arms for the purpose of keeping order at BOE meetings including matters that have to do with non BOE members and situations where BOE members are out of order for violating Roberts Rules when they blurt out or speak other that when recognized by the chair.

I believe that the Board already has a Sargent at Arms; it’s the District’s counsel.

7.). Travel, etc. reimbursement:
Whereas the Buffalo Public School District faces very serious financial challenges in the coming year including but not limited to

1.       Reduction of class sizes in all elementary schools
2.       Funding a new teachers contract
3.       Funding extended after school programs
4.        Funding Teacher training for early elementary reading and math
5.       Funding  at least one new elementary school in accordance with the OCR complaint
6.       Funding turn around plans in 25 receiver schools, and

Whereas a limited number of Board members account for all out of town travel expenditures

Whereas the cost of membership in such organizations as The Big .5, NYSBAA, and Council of  Great City Schools takes funds from our critical mission

Whereas Board perks such as free meals, free office supplies and mileage reimbursement for in-city travel also take funds away from our critical mission

Therefore be it resolved that the Board eliminate all travel, all mileage reimbursement, all free meals and all free office supplies immediately

And it be further resolved that the Superintendent immediately report to the Board on the cost of all outside membership organizations and provide an evaluation of their importance to the District

Much discussion has taken place about this issue at the very time that Board members (myself and Dr. Harris-Tigg) were attending a conference in California. The issue was already slanted before this motion was proposed but certainly to support and sensationalize it.

I think that Board professional development should be the subject of discussion.  That includes professional development that Board members attend on their own time, do not require funding, and occur routinely in the community and in our schools.  Board members have the obligation to be knowledgeable and informed as we make policy decisions for this District. In fact it’s an expectation that we require of ourselves.

Board Policy 1311, Code of Conduct states in paragraph J:  
Maintain familiarity with educational issues through study and participation in programs providing needed information, such as those sponsored by State and National School Boards Associations;
The expenditures noted above are planned in the Board’s budget and each Board member has the opportunity to attend professional development opportunities offered by conference participation.  This should be subject of the Finance Committee for consideration during the development of the budget for the coming year, not by the arbitrary decisions of one Board member.  I would welcome a discussion of these items and am open to looking at how these funds may be used more efficiently.

There is merit in memberships in professional organizations that should be studied very carefully before they are eliminated from the budget.  The District is part of a statewide system that includes over 700 Districts, which interact individually and collectively with the State Education Department.  The Big 5 Conference and NYSSBA, for example offer services that facilitate this interaction, advocate with the State Legislature on funding and policy decisions and provide a service to the Board that would be difficult for District staff to provide.  The cliché penny-wise but pound foolish applies in this instance.

As the Board examines these expenditures, I’d point out that, a major source of recent costly expenditures negatively impacting the District’s budget can be found in the increasing number of unplanned, un-budgeted lawsuits that have been incurred.  Perhaps Mr. Paladino doesn’t want to examine those expenditures as many of them result from lawsuits filed by staff members because of his behavior and actions.  

I am requesting a detailed list of those lawsuits, similar to the report requested by Mr. Quinn regarding Board travel and conference attendance that was sent to the press.

8.). Conduct of meetings and BOE activities: 


A). The conduct of members and others at BOE meetings is a disgraceful, chaotic mess resulting in dysfunction, and

B). The conduct of some public speakers is repetitive, out of sorts, demeaning and uninformative, and

C). It is incumbent upon the BOE to restore order to its deliberation and function:

Therefore be it resolved, that

1). The public speakers program be held once per month at a regularly scheduled meeting and that speakers be allowed to speak no more often that once each 60 days.

2). Monday Executive Committee meetings with Kriner Cash and BOE members shall be discontinued.

3). The President of the BOE and Committee chairs shall strictly enforce Roberts Rules of order in the conduct of all meetings, and

4).  Any person ejected from a BOE meeting or sub-committee meeting for any misbehavior shall not be allowed to return to any BOE or committee meetings for the period of one year.

5). Kieth Jones, considering his past behavior, shall not be allowed to attend any BOE meetings for the term of one year. 

6). No BOE subcommittee or BOE meeting may be adjourned or cancelled unless by telephonic vote of a majority of the BOE, and

7).  BOE members shall immediately report to the President the receipt of monies or any gratuities or gifts in any manner or form from any vendors, including any labor unions, who contract with the BPS.

8). If a member of the BOE member is supported for election in any way, including by endorsement or otherwise, by a labor union that contracts with the BOE, that member shall be conflicted and shall thereafter recuse himself or herself from any deliberation on matters involving that labor union.

Own it.  Mr. Paladino should look inward for the response to this statement in his motion.
If it is incumbent on the BOE to restore order and deliberation to its session, then the BOE needs to start with itself; nothing in this motion offers any self-insight, honest self-assessment or acceptance of responsibility by its proposer.  Requests have been made repeatedly for a Board retreat.  Mr. Paladino has said he will not attend and yet this process has been shown to be a productive way for Board members and the Superintendent to set mutual goals and objectives.

As for the other propositions in this motion, I would point out the following:

1.      The Board has a Public Participation Policy #1513 that outlines the structure of the Public Speaking portion of Board meetings.  The attempt to change this policy is contradictory to the Board’s By-laws and devalues the input of parent and community stakeholders.  It also sends a message that is questionable in what appears to be an attempt to prevent the exercise of the right to free speech.  In addition, Item 4 of this motion is arbitrary and capricious; it does not define “misbehavior” and the one year moratorium is also arbitrary.  None of this has been brought to the full Board for action that adheres to our by-laws.
2.      What is the “past behavior” ascribed to Mr. Keith Jones?  A review of the meeting at which Mr. Jones is alleged to have threatened Mr. Paladino reveals that there is no threat inherent in his words or demeanor.  This singling out of Mr. Jones is a violation of his right to address the Board at Board or Committee meetings.
3.       Motion #6 is absurd in the face of the attempt on the part of the maker and some others Board members to cancel and eliminate the committee meetings all together.  A review of the last 12 months of Committee meetings, attendance of Board members and number of times cancelled is requested in order to have complete, accurate data on the actual number of times that meetings have been cancelled /adjourned.
4.      The Board’s Ethics Policy covers this item.
5.      Motion #8; maybe we should add the following: charter school organizations; Individuals with investments in charter schools or alternate educational systems; owners of development companies with ownership in charter school properties; foundation leaders; political clubs: The list is endless and the bias is obvious.

9). Violence: 

Whereas, it is apparent that the unwritten policy of the BPS has been to cover up and not report to proper police or other authorities events of violence including physical and verbal assault, fights, sexual misconduct, etc., and

Whereas, I t is the desire of the community that the BOE strictly and immediately take action to stop all bullying and violence of any nature in the BPS,

Now therefore, be it resolved that the Superintendent immediately set out procedures to report to the Buffalo Police Dept or other appropriate police or social services agency any physical or emotional assault, sexual misconduct or violence by a student, teacher, administrator, other BPS employee, contractor or parent and insure that a public record is made of every such event and the event be reported to the BOE.  The administration shall advise all BPS constituencies that it is no longer the policy of the BPS to cover up or handle within the schools such onerous activities.

This is another instance of hypocrisy of the highest order.  Bullying is going on right at the Buffalo Board of Education’s Board table.  This do as I say, not as I do approach is symptomatic of an individual who will not take responsibility for his own behavior and actions and of other members of this body who will not hold him or themselves accountable.

10). I nominate Larry Quinn to be the President of the BOE and Jay McCarthy to be the Vice President of the BOE for the present school year effective immediately.   

This motion is out of order.  The process for the election of officers is determined by the Board’s bylaws. Policy #1320

11). No contracts, purchases or other engagements shall be sent to the BOE for approval without at least 3 bids submitted and the prior sign off of terms by competent counsel.

There are sole source providers and vendors who choose not to bid, which leads to having fewer than 3 bids submitted; this is an item that should be sent to committee for review before a decision is made.  It may create a problem of timeliness in processing and obtaining needed services and products in our schools.  The purpose for this motion needs to be detailed.

12). The risk assessment survey presently being conducted with students age 6 to 14 shall be terminated immediately.

What “risk assessment survey” and what is the rationale for terminating this assessment?  This is not a motion that proposes review and rational decision-making. It is a dictate by one Board member and as such is unacceptable.

13). The BOE should be immediately given a briefing by Counsel as to all employees off on paid leave for any reason whatsoever together with names and reasons, time off and rate of pay.

14). The condom program shall immediately be discontinued if favor of a "Healthy Respect “model used in Yonkers.

Again, what data, study, or research justifies this motion?  This is not a motion that proposes review and rational decision-making. It is a dictate by one Board member and as such is unacceptable.

15).  I nominate Kevin Eberle as interim Deputy Superintendent--Chief Operating Officer of the BPS.

Simply stated, the hiring of the District’s staff is the Superintendent’s responsibility, not the Board’s.  This is micromanagement and a glaring example of the Friends and Family hiring that Mr. Paladino rails against.