As an educator I am interested in and often fascinated by the ways in which the Buffalo News shapes and influences public opinion. My concern is intensified and accompanied by disbelief and disappointment when, as a participant or first-hand observer in a number of the News’ reports, I find myself at odds with the interpretation of the events as I know them and have experienced them. Buffalo is probably at the most contentious time, in our history, in the debate over the future of our School District and the 34,000 children it serves. An enlightened, conscientious, impartial and investigative press could bring truth and objectivity to this debate.
Unfortunately, the polarization of factions trying to control the Schools extends to the News, which long ago lost the right to claim that it is a fair and unbiased news outlet. Too often the stories obfuscate the truth, mitigate the facts in favor of expressing reporter judgement or are written to sway public opinion on a particular version of the issue. The News’ front page education stories often communicate an educational philosophy that is aligned with the Board majority’s reform agenda targeting “failing” schools, promoting charter schools as the panacea, school vouchers and more. Unfortunately, Buffalo is not unique with respect to this mis-use of the “power of the press”. It’s a sad commentary on the loss of journalistic integrity and ethics, long considered a cornerstone of a democratic society.
At its May 13th meeting the Board voted to conduct a “national” search for the next Superintendent. It comes two months after a similar Resolution from the Board minority was voted down. Before anyone is lulled into a sense of relief and belief that progress is being made on this critical issue impacting the future of the District, think again. While Mr. Quinn offered a Resolution to conduct the search, it was lacking a substantive plan to guide a comprehensive and transparent process. The Resolution proposed several “periods” including: “of notice”, “to review and collate resumes, “to review resumes and select candidates to interview” and “to interview finalists and select a superintendent”. It’s appalling and unacceptable that Board members, who’ve been touted for their business acumen, would offer a vague process for as important a responsibility as hiring the Chief Education Officer of a billion dollar enterprise. Does this signal that perhaps yet again, five Board members have selected the next Superintendent?
Let’s be clear, the dialogue about the Superintendent search and the job posting would not have taken place at this Board meeting without the intervention of the minority members. Previous requests for a special meeting to plan the superintendent search have been refused. Therefore, Mrs. Belton-Cottman initiated the conversation by presenting a PowerPoint of a step-by-step search process. She had previously emailed every Board member and asked for feedback on the action steps and timeline. Rather than focus on the steps, majority board members immediately attacked the timeline, projected for a six month process, as too long. But even before they spoke on the proposal, their non-verbal communication – they threw the hard copies of the presentation on the table and wouldn’t view the PowerPoint – spoke volumes about their disdain and refusal to join in a discussion about how to better fulfill our fiduciary mandate. Persistence and insistence on the discussion by the minority led to important compromise and signs of collaboration.
The News continues to ignore the gross violations of good board governance, once hailed as a strong suit of the majority members. At the same time they also neglect to credit minority board members for pushing for a prudent, professional and inclusive search. Even as we work to move past the distractions that prevent a focus on student-centered issues, the News undermines our work and sincerity by labeling minority board members as supporters of the status quo.
The Superintendent search, including all the associated activities of the Board, offers an opportunity to hold the News accountable if it fails to report all perspectives related to this activity. The Board has a legal commitment to recruit and hire a new Superintendent; its only employee and arguably the District’s most critical employee. If past behavior is any predictor of future behavior, the documented strategy used to hire Mr. Ogilvie and the attempt to appoint a principal as the new Superintendent, without full Board input should be of grave concern and a focus of media scrutiny.