Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ogilvie's Untimely Departure

Almost a year ago, on July 6th, newly elected Board of Education President, James Sampson sent an email to all Board members.  The subject of the email was “Executive Session – Interim Superintendent” and the message was as much a directive as it was informative.  Board members were notified that the July 7th Board meeting would begin with an executive session at 4pm.  Specifically, Mr. Sampson stated that this session was to review the following issues:

“I will be introducing a resolution at the regular business meeting that Donald Ogilvie be appointed immediately as interim superintendent.  We will be reviewing his contract in Executive session.  Karl Kristoff (Special counsel) will be present to review it with us…. Also, he (Ogilvie) can terminate the contract with 30 days’ notice as can the BOE.”

In a feeble attempt to justify what amounted to the high-jacking of the superintendent search and appointment process by the board majority, Mr. Sampson’s email offered the following rationale: “(although) the Board had known for two months that Dr. Brown was leaving on June 30th, little progress had been made in finding an interim Superintendent; with only two months before the beginning of the next school year there was much work to be done; there were many open positions to fill; and the urgency to have an Interim in place did not allow for an extended search process.”   This sounds eerily like the conditions associated with the current Superintendent search dilemma. 
Of course, Sampson omitted the fact that the decision to hire Mr. Ogilvie was made by the majority, in secrecy, without the knowledge or involvement of the board’s four minority members.  No apologies were made for the blatant disrespect or the violation of Board By-laws.  The majority, backed by the Special Counsel’s legal opinion that their actions were legitimate, engineered the appointment by virtue of their 5 votes.  The height of their arrogance is demonstrated by the employment contract that Mr. Ogilvie signed on July 3rd, six days before the formal confirmation of his appointment.

Yet everything has not gone as planned beginning with the format of the July 7th meeting.  The minority members refused to go into executive session to discuss Mr. Ogilvie’s appointment, out of sight and hearing of the public.  After an extended discussion, aka debate, Mr. Ogilvie, who’d been waiting in the wings, was brought to the board room.  He faced a blistering and confrontational “interview” by the minority members.  His responses were diplomatic as he tried to put the best spin possible on a deplorable situation.  But of all the questions raised and objections offered by the minority members, the one question that is etched in my memory was asked by Sharon Belton Cottman.  She asked Mr. Ogilvie if he was his “own man”.  He responded, emphatically, that he was and would not rubber stamp anyone else’s demands.

During this last year Mr. Ogilvie’s claim to being his own man has been tested on numerous occasions.  His refusal to follow through on demands of majority members Paladino and Quinn led to conflicts and a rift that became public last April.   In a strange twist, Paladino demanded Mr. Ogilvie’s resignation accusing him of “breaking his promises” and “betrayal”.  Paladino continues to make his displeasure and disdain for Mr. Ogilvie evident in both verbal and written statements about Ogilvie’s failure to act and his lack of “gut”.  Having lost on placing his first handpicked successor, the Emerson High Principal, in the office, Paladino has again announced his intention to appoint another principal to the vacancy.   The community should be vigilant regarding this audacious plan to usurp the process.

Ironically as the relationship between Mr. Ogilvie and the majority was unraveling, his relationship with the board’s minority members was gaining in mutual respect and appreciation for his stance on some issues.    A 40-year plus educational veteran, Mr. Ogilvie came to the Superintendency with a resume that included extensive experiences as a classroom and building educator and superintendent of several local school Districts before his tenure as the Superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES.  He has a record of documented accomplishments.  On more than one occasion, however, Mr. Ogilvie expressed his surprise about the steep learning curve that he found when he took the position. 

He has acknowledged that Buffalo must tackle an array of complex tasks and juggle myriad state mandates to maintain viable educational opportunities for our students.  This requires an individual with broad-based competencies, a history of accomplishments and an ability to work with diverse groups. During his tenure, Mr. Ogilvie’s knowledge of school management issues, staff relations, community relations, budget, bargaining units and state and federal regulations have been positive assets and made him equal to undertaking these daunting tasks.  He is to be commended for his refusal to capitulate to Board majority members opposed to decisions that were prudent and based on sound educational judgement.

Over the last 12 months, I have had the opportunity to observe Mr. Ogilvie in action.  I’ve had numerous conversations with him and have always expressed my opinions, directly and honestly.  At the beginning of his tenure these opinions expressed my distrust of his motives and intentions regarding the future of this District.  What I have come to believe is that Mr. Ogilvie is a professional; a man of integrity who has the intellectual ability, the learned competencies and the will to work in the best interests of the children of this District.  His forced departure, after one year, is unfortunate and another blow to the stability of the District.

Mr. Ogilvie has chartered a reasonable and sensible course for the District that includes a Redesign Plan, a response to State mandates regarding “persistently struggling” schools and recommendations to comply with the Office of Civil Rights findings of Dr. Gary Orfield.  It remains to be seen if after his departure the majority board members will stay the course or veer wildly off of it. His successor will have big shoes to fill.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Paladino Threatens to Usurp the Superintendent Search, Again

Once again, Carl Paladino is promoting the appointment of another handpicked Superintendent that he and the Board majority have selected.  Wednesday night’s (June 17th) Executive Affairs Committee meeting included an extensive and heated debate about the recruitment and selection process for a new Superintendent.  If Mr. Paladino has his way there will be no defined or diligent process.  In fact, he’s not interested in a discussion of prospective candidates’ competencies, relevant experiences and demonstrated success in addressing many of the challenges that confront this District. He’s not concerned about vetting said candidates before consideration of their viability as a contender for the position and sees no need to wait for a report before setting up interviews. 

And as for the interviews?  Mr. Paladino thinks we’re wasting time to develop an interview protocol, determine a set of interview questions, arrange time for candidates to meet with stake-holders or even set up a time-table to guide the process.  Paladino’s response to the minority bloc’s call for the Board to exercise due diligence in conducting the search for the most critical position in the District, was to accuse the minority of dragging our feet, not being cognizant of the low morale and other stressors on staff and  not caring about  the children in the District.  
Of course there would be no reason for the Board to develop a systematic, transparent process for selection of the District’s next leader if that individual has already been selected.  Of course, there would not be a need to interview a slate of candidates, if the next Superintendent has been offered the job already.  Of course it’s not necessary to engage the community for feedback on the competencies of the Superintendent if that individual has the support of five votes and they don’t care what the stakeholders think or expect in a new leader.

According to Paladino the Board should just get it done.  This search should be concluded with the appointment made by the end of June!  And if the minority bloc doesn’t agree to fast track the process, Paladino has threatened that he will get the majority members to appoint a new Superintendent, perhaps as soon as the June 24th meeting.

The ultimate issue is that once again, not for the first or even the second but for a third time, one member is leading a segment of the Board with the majority vote to make a decision for this District that circumvents an open, deliberate and diligent process for the selection of a new leader.  Furthermore, the majority’s action will disenfranchise the minority members of the Board and the constituents we represent.  Under Education Law, the Board’s primary responsibility is fiduciary accountability including hiring and supervision of the chief educational officer and policy development.  

Those are requirements for the entire Board, not just a segment or one individual, who wants to run the District like it’s his own private corporation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

NYS Education Commissioner-elect Elia Talks to some Buffalo BOE members; Why not all members?

According to Buffalo News Reporter Tiffany Lankes, who had an extensive interview today with WNED journalist Eileen Buckley (June 16, 2015), NYS Education Commissioner Elect, MaryEllen Elia has spoken with some Buffalo Board of Education members.  Here we go again!  Former Commissioner, Dr. John King granted an audience to Board member James Sampson and Board member elect Larry Quinn last year, without the knowledge of then Board members.  And we have yet to receive a report about that meeting or the promises/decisions resulting from this encounter.  Now, we have a new Commissioner, who has not even taken office yet but has determined that some Buffalo Board of Education members should have the privilege to communicate with her, while others are excluded and left in the dark.  Sounds like Déja Vue all over again.   It was reported that former Regent Robert Bennett arranged the 2014 meeting with Commissioner King.  Is Mr. Bennett also involved in arranging the “conversation” with Ms. Elia and the selected Board members?  And what was the subject of the conversation? 

If Commissioner Elect Elia plans to create a new model for community engagement, including reaching out to Boards of Education, the report of this exclusive interaction does not communicate a new direction for SED or the Commissioner.  Members of the minority bloc on the Buffalo Board of Education would welcome the opportunity to talk with Ms. Elia; to convey our concerns and to seek ways to work collaboratively with her in the best interests of our students.  However, if the Commissioner Elect has decided to initiate her tenure by excluding the minority members of the Board this action sends the message that our perspectives, our experiences, our knowledge and our insight are not valued or desired. 

We are reaching out to the Commissioner Elect and invite her to respond to an invitation to engage in inclusive and productive conversation with all the Board members.  Ms. Elia, we look forward to hearing from you, at your earliest convenience.

Board members:  Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD, Sharon Belton-Cottman, Theresa Harris-Tigg, PhD, Mary Ruth Kapsiak

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Call For Accountability

June 12, 2015

Mr. James Sampson, President
Buffalo Board of Education
801 City Hall
Buffalo, New York 14202

Dear Mr. Sampson:

This is the 4th correspondence to you requesting that you exercise leadership in addressing the egregious behavior of one of the members of the Buffalo Board of Education; Mr. Carl Paladino, Park District Representative.  You received three previous memos from Dr. Nevergold, each prompted by incidents in which Mr. Paladino showed blatant disrespect and disregard for individuals with whom this District has professional interactions.  The specific incidents that were cited in prior requests were:  Mr. Paladino’s threat to Dr. Gary Orfield, OCR Consultant; the demand for Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie’s resignation and threat to seek his termination if he did not resign and the public defamation of a Board employee.  To date you have not responded to any of these matters, either in response to Dr. Nevergold’s memoranda or based on your own knowledge and experience of what constitutes good governance.

Now, we find ourselves (yes, as a Board member, Mr. Paladino’s actions impact this entire District) the subject of yet another outrageous, unprofessional, racially charged remark that Mr. Paladino made last Saturday about the “damned Asians” taking college placements away from citizens.  Mr. Paladino’s comments were not only biased and insensitive; they were based on inaccurate information, something that Mr. Paladino does routinely. 

This is behavior that is repetitive.  In the past and to this day, Paladino has denigrated Black women including Board members, former Superintendent Dr. Pamela C. Brown and other administrative staff. Most recently Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and new State Regent, Dr. Catherine Collins have been the objects of his ire.  Using descriptors such as the “sisterhood, cabal, clueless, nonsensical and incompetent” he has tried to reduce African American women to a position as self-serving individuals.  He has alleged that these African American females are motivated by an opportunity for “self-empowerment” and “do not care about African American children”.  His behavior is unseemly, abusive and unacceptable for a publicly elected official.  Is this the example that we want to set for our students?

The Board’s refusal to address Mr. Paladino’s behavior, indeed the silence of the Board as an entity sends the message that we all condone this behavior.  However, the four signers of this letter offer a resounding rebuttal to this assumption.  We have frequently voiced disapproval of Mr. Paladino’s breaches of Board policies and inappropriate racialized statements. Yet, in spite of his repeated violations, this Board, as a body, has not taken any constructive or decisive action to reject or dis-avow support of Mr. Paladino’s behavior.  Our own Student Code of Conduct, which applies to everyone in the District, in case you didn’t know, states that “The Board of Education is responsible to lead by example….” (p. 29).  Nearly 80 percent of our student population are children of color, who are watching their representatives to see how we handle this situation.

While we understand that New York State Education Law does not give the Board authority to censure or reprimand a school board member, the Board “may criticize the exercise of poor judgement by one of its members (Appeal of Silano, Ed Dept Rep 20 (1993)”.   Through our Student Code of Conduct, we have set standards for acceptable student behavior and consequences for not following those standards.  So, we ask, are the Board members who continue to maintain their silence expecting more of our students than they do of themselves?  As adults are you saying to our students, “Do as we say, not as we do?”  If that is ultimately the answer, we say shame on you for taking this hypocritical stance. 

Some of you are quick to label our students and our schools as failing.  Our students are not failing!  Our schools are not failing!  Its members of the Board of Education, who refuse to be accountable and prefer to allow one errant member to tarnish our students, tarnish our District and ultimately tarnish our City.  You are the ones who are failing!  It’s time to “man” or “woman” up!


Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD, At-Large Member  
Sharon Belton-Cottman, Ferry District Member  
Theresa Harris-Tigg, PhD, East District Member  

Mary Ruth Kapsiak, Central District Member

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Much Ado about Everything!

The Buffalo School District has entered another critical phase in the search for new leadership.  In less than three weeks, three top administrators including the Interim Superintendent, the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Academic Officer will leave their City Hall offices. However, it’s highly unlikely that a new Superintendent will be in place by July 1st.  First, the recruitment process was needlessly delayed by majority Board members whose plan to appoint another hand-picked Superintendent was vociferously opposed and ultimately defeated.  Second, while a more legitimate search has been launched the late start will probably result in the appointment of a short-term acting or interim Superintendent, as mandated by New York State Education Law.
After four Superintendents in the last three years, the selection of the next Superintendent is a matter of grave importance that has generated heated debate.  Minority board members advocated for a comprehensive search and there was a push from parents and community stakeholders to support this approach. The next Superintendent has been the subject of numerous columns, as I have written about the preferred competencies, experiences and characteristics of a successful candidate for the position.
During several Board sponsored public meetings, parents and community stakeholders identified specific criteria as imperative:  a demonstrated track record as a school leader, urban school experience, diverse and increasingly responsible management expertise, knowledge of - curriculum, assessment, budget, English Language Learning, special education issues and best practices in school turn around; diverse educational experiences, political savvy, good communication skills and a unifier.  There is equal support for a local candidate as well as for a candidate with national roots.

Yet even as the search for a new Superintendent moves toward a more transparent and open process, the work of the District also moves on, unabated.  The systemic processes that support the education of our children continue and resultant tasks MUST be accomplished as required by Federal, State and District mandates.  Quite frankly, no matter how knowledgeable of the District’s history, culture and current situation, talented or experienced, the next Superintendent will have a learning curve.  Mr. Ogilvie, a 40 year education veteran, has acknowledged on more than one occasion that he had a steep “learning curve” when he assumed the Interim position.  We should expect the new Superintendent to have a similar experience, especially as the Buffalo Public Schools face numerous, ongoing complex and challenging mandates. 

The District has no shortage of State and Federal mandates that require action immediately to prepare for the 2015-16 school year.  These mandates will require individuals who have “institutional memory”, knowledge, experience and commitment to carry forth District goals and requisites. The list is extensive.  Here are a few of the major initiatives:

  • ·        Implementation of new legislative State regulations that propose Superintendent receivership for 5 “persistently struggling” schools
  • ·        Development of a phase-out plan for Riverside
  • ·        Continued phase-out of Bennett, East, Lafayette and MLK Multicultural Institute
  • ·        Implementation of phase-in plans at these schools for new programs
  • ·        Open the Newcomer’s Academy at Lafayette High School
  • ·        Move and re-open the STAR Academy at Lafayette High School
  • ·        Open Emerson Extension at former School 28
  • ·        Respond to the recommendations of the OCR Report; including the recommendation to open two new criterion based schools – an elementary and a high school in 2016-17
  • ·        Grant writing and submission for additional funding
  • ·        Negotiation of the teachers’ and other bargaining groups’ contracts
  • ·        Retirements of seasoned teachers, principals and other school personnel

How do we ensure that the District maintains functional operations and that these and other mandates are addressed?   The selection of a new Superintendent alone will not ensure that these and other priorities are met.  Regardless of the successful candidate’s ties to the District or the region he/she will not be able to run this District without the support and work of current senior management and department heads.  The Board should step up to support this group of professionals, who have the experience, knowledge and most importantly institutional memory to maintain stability as the new leader is selected, appointed and starts the work of managing the affairs of this District.  Without this support, we invite confusion and chaos.  The Board has the responsibility to ensure that efficient management of the District continues, especially
in the absence of a permanent Superintendent.

This is not a plea I make for myself or for other Board members.  We owe it to the 34,000 plus students in our schools.  We have an obligation to them and I call on all Board members to remember their oath of office and their pledge to the citizens of this City.