Sunday, April 5, 2015

Censorship: The Board Majority's New Strategy

What’s next from the Board majority?  How about Censorship?  That’s the most recent tactic being used to constrain the minority women on the Board.  From the beginning the Board majority signaled the intent to push their strategic plan to reform the Buffalo Schools. Remember their “Vision Statement”?   Actually they've been rather transparent about their determination to push this agenda, regardless of the concerns expressed by other Board members or stakeholders.  Their disdain, disrespect and de-valuing of the Board minority is evidenced by continual bullying and intimidation and overt/covert actions such as the following:

  • ·         They negotiated with and then rammed through the appointment of Mr. Ogilvie as Interim Superintendent, without the knowledge, involvement or agreement of the four minority board members; or input from community stakeholders; Ironically, after only a few months, citing his “betrayal, treachery and failure to keep his promises”, their dissatisfaction with their hand-picked Superintendent has forced his resignation, effective July 1, 2015,

  • ·         As a pretext to legitimize the gift of at least two of our best school buildings to charter schools, the issuance of a Request for Space was done over the objections of minority members who questioned the Board’s authority to make this offer; the Board recently learned that it has no authority to gift or lease buildings it does not own.

  • ·         The majority pushed through the settlement of a long-standing lawsuit with the Charter School for Applied Technology for $200,000; yet recently voted to reconsider this agreement which will result in a more favorable outcome for CSAT but at a cost of $1.8 million to the District.

  • ·         One member, in particular, has sued this Board member repeatedly, denigrated staff and an outside consultant engendering un-expected legal fees to respond to numerous costly lawsuits filed against the individual member and the Board.

Given this pattern of behavior, the majority’s latest strategy – to silence the minority members and to deny public input on the critical issue of the search for the next Superintendent – is not surprising.  It is outrageous; however, as this tactic also communicates that they don’t care what the stakeholders have to say.  On Wednesday, April 1st, members of the Board minority held a press conference during which we again expressed concern and objection to the Board majority’s plan to hire a Deputy Superintendent, who will be installed as Superintendent following the departure of Mr. Ogilvie.  Our conference was meant to send the message that the selection of a Superintendent is a major responsibility of the Board requiring due diligence.  We believe that the process is too important to rely on the narrow approach being forced by the majority.  Support for this position came from a diverse group of attendees at the conference.

Point of information, the Deputy search yielded 12 candidates, half of whom are located throughout the country.   For all intents and purposes the Deputy Superintendent search has been a national one.  There are three internal candidates.  The outcome is that our candidate pool is exactly three individuals, who may or may not have the skills to fill the position of Superintendent.  Instead of looking for the best candidate, it appears that this is another attempt to hire an individual sympathetic to the majority, who will be more compliant than Mr. Ogilvie. The projected time-frame for hiring the Deputy is expected to be completed by May at the earliest, leaving barely two months of transition with Mr. Ogilvie. Furthermore the new Superintendent will have to fill two major vacancies in the Cabinet:  the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Academic Officer.

The minority Board members propose hosting several community meetings to invite public comment on the Superintendent search.  In previous searches, parent and community stakeholder input has been sought as a necessary and valued resource.  In response, Larry Quinn and Jason McCarthy sent emails directing the Superintendent to deny access to school buildings for the meetings and to school communication mechanisms to inform parents and others about these meetings. 

Mr. Quinn has intimated that the Board needs to vote on authorizing the minority Board members to use public school buildings.  This is unprecedented.  In addition, it’s a double standard given the fact that Mr. Quinn neither sought Board approval nor informed the Board of the tours he gave of Bennett High School and School #8 to charter school officials.  He only acknowledged that he’d conducted the tours after the information became public. Mr. Ogilvie has suggested that we could request to rent the buildings and pay for liability insurance and/or bring the matter to the Board meeting on April 15th

As noted, this is an unprecedented action.  Community groups use school buildings all the time, generally without cost.  Yet a duly elected Board member is being denied the right to host a public meeting in a school building?  The Board minority has decided that we will not be intimidated.  We will not be marginalized.  We will expose hypocrisy where it exists.  We will stand our ground.  We are elected public officials who have an obligation to represent our constituents, especially our students.  If you agree that this attempt to silence us and to deny the right of community constituents to address their public officials is unacceptable, we urge you to call the Board Office, 816-3567 or 816-3568 and express your opposition to this form of censorship.

The first community meeting will be held on April 14 at 6pm, School #81 at 140 Tacoma Avenue, followed by a second meeting at Makowski ECC, on April 16 at 6pm, 1095 Jefferson Avenue.

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