A week has passed since the “historic” February 13th meeting of the Buffalo Board of Education. I realize some will find the use of the term “historic” as questionable but I am using it somewhat in a “tongue in cheek” gesture. And this meeting was, unfortunately, marred by the unseemly behavior that has come to characterize board meetings, including an unprecedented verbal attack on an African American female staff member by Board member Paladino. Yet, the insistence of a vocal community and the persistence of the Board’s minority led to dialogue and compromise resulting in a rare unanimous agreement on a course of action presented by Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie.
The outcome impacts the future direction of several schools; pushed back on the proposed takeover of cherished Buffalo icons, Bennett High School, East High and the Dr. MLK Multicultural Institute by charter schools; supported the recommendation of the Interim Superintendent of a longer-range proposal for a sustainable turn-around plan that even the State Education Department will have trouble faulting and acknowledged that the District has an obligation to meet the terms of an agreement it entered into with the Federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR). This agreement requires the District to develop a corrective action plan to address issues of inequity in admissions to the criterion schools. All in all, the Board agreed, for the first time, to seriously consider adopting plans that put the interests of our students in the forefront.
But even as I look optimistically toward the foreseeable future of working with Mr. Ogilvie on this plan, I am troubled by signs that actions are being taken to unravel the settlement that was reached on Friday, the 13th of February. Almost immediately, indeed during the course of the meeting, Board President Sampson and Board member Paladino sought advice from the Board’s outside counsel. Their goal -- to over-turn the ruling of the Board’s attorney regarding Mr. Sampson’s handling of a parliamentary process aimed to limit debate. The Board attorney’s position was upheld, but Mr. Paladino is not a man to take no for an answer, especially when he wants to hear yes. In fact, on the Sunday following the meeting Mr. Paladino signaled his intent to undermine the accomplishments from the meeting. He gave a radio interview during which he continued to denigrate the Board’s attorney and personally attack her competence and credibility (sound familiar?). It is a tactic; intimidation, bullying and name-calling that he has continued to use and to get away with, until recently.
Dr. Gary Orfield, the consultant who was hired as part of the agreement with OCR, refused to be silent when Mr. Paladino wrote to warn him that the Board’s majority would not tolerate any interference or wait for the Doctor’s report before putting their plan into action. To emphasize his message, Paladino sent a second email to Dr. Orfield and ended by admonishing him to “Stay out of our way, Dr.” Orfield wrote the OCR requesting that they intervene with specific directives to the District. Following the Board meeting Paladino continued the threats in the radio interview and made other statements regarding Dr. Orfield’s credentials, motives and integrity. Furthermore, he has pledged to bring a motion to the upcoming Board meeting to terminate Dr. Orfield’s contract. Should this motion pass, the District would be subject to mandated enforcement of the agreement. The Office of Civil Rights has tremendous latitude to withhold federal funds, for example, to force compliance. Termination of Dr. Orfield’s contract would be a problem for the District and create a ripple effect with serious consequences. It remains to be seen if the five votes are there to approve the motion or whether any attempts will be made to chip away at the agreement reached last week. In any event I've asked the question before, but let me put it another way, when is enough, enough!
When do the so-called pillars of the community, who claim to be concerned about the “state” of the Buffalo Schools, stop looking the other way as one man causes such havoc? When is enough, enough?! When do we stop allowing Black women to be disrespected and vilified? When is enough, enough?! When do we stop being silent; as our students are characterized as “poor, suffering children trapped in failing schools”; as systematic actions by Board members to “dismantle” our school district are touted as “bold and innovative”; as orchestrated and sustained assaults designed to create a narrative of the District as the “poster child” for failing schools in the State, are routinely exclaimed by state officials and published in the media, even though there are other cities with worse records. When is enough, enough?! When is enough, enough?!