Since becoming a member of the Board of Education, I have attended any number of meetings that have extended over hours, some as long as 6 or 7 hours. During these extreme sessions we have addressed critical issues impacting our students, schools and staff. And yes, these meetings have been emotionally charged and high drama. The meeting of February 13th was, however, one of the most significant meetings of all as the stakes for the future of the District and the education of our children were the highest that they have ever been. The new Board majority had every intention of ramming through a plan that would have begun the implementation of their goal to “disassemble” the Buffalo schools.
They summarily dismissed a Resolution proposed by Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie, which offered a comprehensive and measured approach to the phase out of several “out-of-time” schools; the phase in of schools to replace the “out-of-time”; the expansion of seats in two schools in good standing; the creation of several innovative programs, including a Newcomer’s Academy for immigrant arrivals to our City; and a plan to offer vacated school buildings for charter school leasing. Noting the ambitious nature of this plan, Mr. Ogilvie recommended delaying some actions until the 2016-17 school year, but beginning others in 2015-16.
With little discussion on their part and citing the need for “urgency” as paramount, Mr. Ogilvie’s Resolution was quickly defeated by a vote of 5 to 4 (I’m sure you know who the four yes votes were). Even as they touted their proposal as the only way to save the “34,000 poor, suffering children” in the District, the majority’s plan would have, in effect, set into motion the implementation of the “Vision” they created after taking office last year and:
· given away prime school buildings, all assets in those buildings, utilities and more to Charter Schools,
· closed existing schools without consideration for the future of the children currently in those buildings
· forced a series of “directives” on the Interim Superintendent that would have essentially rendered him ineffectual in his job and given the Board (the majority that is) the power to establish educational mandates as they deemed necessary;
· tied the implementation of new school programs to contracts with the teachers’ and administrators’ unions and established a Board committee to engage in the negotiations creating the potential for the unions to sue the Board for not bargaining in good faith;
· jeopardized the agreement with the US Office of Civil Rights, which is reviewing the District’s admissions policy for criterion based schools; Carl Paladino has written to the OCR consultant warning him to “Stay out of our way, Dr.” regarding the consultant’s request that the Board delay making drastic changes regarding school closures and Charter Schools. The consultant has now asked the Office of Civil Rights to take a much stronger position that could result in the agreement becoming a mandate;
After a four hour, physically and mentally draining meeting, they weren’t able to approve their damaging measure! Not only was this proposal not voted on, but continued dialogue – aka – a filibuster - forced by the African American women of the Board ended in a compromise Resolution that was essentially that proposed by Mr. Ogilvie at the beginning of the meeting. The ultimate lesson of this story is that might does not always prevail over right! What stopped this “reform” juggernaut? A Community effort!
With the refrain: “Whose Schools?! Our Schools! Who Decides?! We Decide! Concerned parents, community members and educators have rallied for weeks to call attention to the movement to destroy our District. To them, I say THANK YOU! Mr. Ogilvie also should be recognized for having the integrity and the courage to stand up to the majority members that brought him to Buffalo, seemingly to do their bidding. But against an increasingly hostile and controlling Board faction, he rose to stand up to deliver a plan that has the best interests of the children at the forefront. He’s likely to suffer backlash from his decision, not only from the majority Board members but from other influential community members who support the “reform” agenda. He needs our continued support as he works to fashion a plan that will support the education of students in this district.
Finally, I have to give credit to the “Sisterhood”. Our refusal to accept a Robert’s Rules of Order process, which was designed to cut off debate and limit productive conversation, opened the door to the compromise that led to the acceptance of Mr. Ogilvie’s Resolution. Our refusal to be intimidated by powerful, entitled and mean-spirited Board members was central to the outcome. Our decision to filibuster, yes we did filibuster not “attempted filibuster” as the Buffalo News wanted to characterize our actions, prevented a vote on the Majority’s Resolution and led to the concessions, which omitted many of the strangle-hold actions the majority wanted to institute.
Friday, February 13th, was a red letter day. But it was only day one in an ongoing struggle to keep public education public and out of the hands of privateers. Contrary to the picture that the media wants to paint, this is about the children! It’s always been about the children and will continue to be about the children. We implore the community to support THE CHILDREN by supporting all the constituents who have come together to Save Our Schools.