Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. It Should be About the Children! If we applied talk about “transparency, openness and honesty” to the expression of disrespect and disregard by some Board members, we would find the evidence of such behavior written all over their faces. Our students have noticed it, brought it to our attention and frankly been the example for mature behavior that the adults have only given lip service to. As one student observed last Wednesday night, “I’ve seen board members sit and tap their pens and be on their phones and I realize that if the same behavior was to be executed by me or one of my classmates, we would be considered low performing”. Pan to the Board table to find one Board member texting on his phone as he ignored the young man’s words. Go to YouTube if you don’t believe me.
Last week the distribution of a two flyers depicting all the Board members and others by racist, derogatory and demeaning caricatures ignited a firestorm that has threatened to eclipse the real issues that the Board should be addressing. Really? Should anyone be surprised that something of this sort would happen? For nearly two years one board member has been referring to the African American women, on the staff and board, as “clueless, incompetent, idiot, sisterhood” and probably much worse than that in private. Furthermore, a recent email from Mr. Paladino to the civil rights consultant, who is studying the problem of equity in our District and suggested delaying the decision to hand over our schools, warned him to “Stay out of our way”. These and other actions by this board member have invited this sort of “nonsense”. Flyer Gate.
The timing of the release of these anonymously produced flyers is questionable. But one thing that we should understand is that while the focus is on this piece, we are distracted from the very important issue of what happens to four “out-of-time” schools and the students, who are currently enrolled in them. Even as the Board “debates” the merits of school developed redesigns and charter-school take over, one Board member, Larry Quinn recently visited Bennett High School and met with staff to outline their future. I spoke to staff members, who were present during this meeting and asked that their names be withheld, but confirmed that Mr. Quinn promised the following: The charter schools would take ownership of Bennett; Mr. Ogilvie will be leaving his position by April 1st; and a new Superintendent from the ranks of current principals has already been selected by the Board majority. Does this sound like there will be a fair and reasoned assessment of the redesign plans as compared to the charter schools take-over? It doesn't seem likely. And nothing was said about the fate of the students at Bennett. It Should be About the Children!
In the midst of the discussion of whether the vote will be to maintain Buffalo Schools for Buffalo students or give those schools to “public”, but privately run charters, there is a question of Mr. Paladino’s conflict of interest. At the charter school presentations, I made a point of asking each for the identity of their landlord. In two of the three cases, Tapestry and Health Sciences, the response was “Ellicott Development”. CSAT also has a relationship with a subsidiary of Ellicott Development at its Hertel Avenue site. Having free space should free up funding that would have a positive impact on the budget of these charters, which includes tens of thousands of dollars in lease payments to Ellicott Development. Mr. Paladino maintains that he does not have a conflict and will vote to approve the charter requests. Even reference to the Board’s Ethics Policy does not deter Mr. Paladino from his stated plan.
It Should be About the Children! The school redesign teams have worked to develop credible, student centered, innovative plans to keep these schools open, thriving and serving Buffalo Public Schools children. Mr. Ogilvie, Interim Superintendent, has proposed that the Board take time to develop a comprehensive plan that would include current plans to expand Emerson School of Hospitality and the opening of a Newcomer’s Academy for new arrivals to this country. The State has given the District the flexibility to start the redesigned school programs in September 2016, which would allow time for thoughtful and rationale “tweaking” of the programs if necessary including considering the report of the civil rights expert.
LET’S MAKE IT ABOUT THE CHILDREN! Voice your objections to the plan to turn over Bennett, School 39 or East High School to the charter schools. Our children deserve to have a Board of Education that considers the impact of these decisions on them and does not use rhetoric about “34,000 poor failing children” as a smoke screen to “dis-assemble” this school district.