Sunday, October 25, 2015

Stability, Not Status Quo!

Last week I wrote a critique of the Board Majority’s Vision Statement.  While the Statement laid out an ambitious agenda, little has been accomplished.  This failure can be attributed to actions of majority members themselves, push back from the minority members and vocal community opposition.   I also pointed to majority members’ “falling out” with their own hand-picked leader as a major cause of the failure of their agenda and as a contributing factor to the instability in the District.  I concluded the article by urging Superintendent Cash to “throw this “Vision Statement” in the trash where it belongs and concentrate on developing a plan that puts students at the center of the agenda.”  A reader contested my assessment and wanted to know what my vision is for the District.

First, I stand by my comments and my evaluation of a “Vision”, which was secretly written by 5 of the 9 Board members thus preventing all Board members from offering input.   My intent is not to provide yet another vision statement that has not evolved as a result of full Board participation.  But what I will respond to is an assumption and a charge often hurled at minority members that we want to maintain the status quo.  

The real issue is not status quo, its stability or lack there-of.  Four Superintendents in the span of 14 months does not support educational achievement.  Neither does the changing landscape forced by state accountability measures, a plethora of state mandates and the imposition of one “fix” after the other with little time to maintain successful change (e.g. most recently Receivership).  The imposition of politically driven educational policy, as practiced by our Governor (use of the budget to implement changes in teacher evaluations) is yet another example of shifting requirements.   Additionally, we should acknowledge a series of self-inflicted wounds, e.g. a dysfunctional Board (yes, I’ll own that we are) and internal problems that have led to a number of legal complaints with the Federal Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.

Yet the examples of just a few of the de-stabilizing factors confronting the District are staggering:

  • ·         In 2012-2013, Commissioner John King ordered that we send students from East, Lafayette and Bennett High Schools to BOCES even though the District has successful Career Technical Education programs.  This mandate was unfunded and caused great upheaval for the schools involved and has produced small results

  • ·         That same year the Commissioner appointed a Distinguished Educator.  After 3 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant fees, we are hard pressed to identify the positive outcomes of this work

  • ·         The Commissioner designated 4 schools as out of time; requiring the District to phase them out, start new programs or close them.  A 5th school was identified this year.  In addition to consuming enormous staff time and resources in the development of new programs, our inability to accept 9th graders in 4 of these schools created a seat shortage for incoming Freshmen this year

  • ·         Johns Hopkins, the State approved Educational Partner to turn around East and Lafayette pulled out of both schools on short notice during the 2013-2014 year, forcing a restructuring of the plans for those schools and a set-back of any progress made during their tenure

  • ·         The State’s emphasis on high stakes testing, used to label failing  and good standing schools, threatens to create a learning environment where test prep gobbles up more teaching time

  • ·         The Governor has ordered a re-assessment of the Common Core implementation; in the meantime schools are still required to manage educational programming using these questionable standards and their accompanying standardized tests

  • ·         This year, under a new legislative mandate, the State has named 25 schools for Receivership; the Superintendent is given more authority but he only has one to two years to show “demonstrable progress” in schools that the State has said have been failing for 7 to 10 years

·         And if that’s not enough:  The District has critical staff vacancies in the positions of Chief Financial Officer, Deputy Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer.  The District also has to respond to serious findings by the Office of Civil Rights that will require the expansion and creation of more access to Criterion Schools for children of color

Before anyone rushes to say that I’m making excuses.  Every urban district in the state is struggling with most of these problems.  In fact, Rochester’s and Syracuse’s student proficiency is far below that of Buffalo.  Yet, we have the singular distinction of being identified as the poster child for failed Districts.  Arguably, we can do better.  But we need the time.

If I were to hazard a “vision”, it would be that the District would be given that time.  The Superintendent needs time to establish his team, to develop a strategic plan, to build on successes and implement current achievable plans, to focus on student-centered programming and to create a collaboration with the Board.  Of course the reality isn’t that simple and the “work” as Dr. Cash describes it will proceed under the conditions we are given. 

Stability is key. I don’t know anyone who really thinks that a strong foundation can be built on shifting sands.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Board Majority’s Reform Vision: Dream or Nightmare?

How many of you remember the “Vision for Buffalo Public Education”?  That was the document issued by the “new” Board majority in July 2014 shortly after their takeover.  This document was supposed to guide the reform agenda of the Board majority and, in a 5 year period produce “a robust portfolio of high performing schools”.  Elements of this agenda included the promise to create a range of options for parents to choose to educate their child – a) high performing charters b) expansion of criterion schools c) expansion of high demand CTE programs d) possible creation of a Recovery District for lowest performing schools e) transfer agreements to send Buffalo students to suburban schools f) creation of “opportunity scholarships” aka vouchers to use at private schools.

In addition, the “Vision” proposed to initiate changes in organizational and fiscal “structural realignment” that would improve management and more efficiently drive money to the classroom; teacher incentives; engage stakeholders, principally by creating a non-voting Board seat for a member of the DPCC and other activities focused on the relationship with the DPCC.  A central element to insure the success of this plan was dependent on the hiring of an Interim Superintendent, who had the experience, insider knowledge, positive relationship with the State Education Department and, most importantly, a philosophy in line with that of the Board majority.  Of course, the qualifications of the Interim Superintendent were tailored to those of the hand-picked appointee, Donald Ogilvie.  Mr. Ogilvie was waiting in the wings and named to the position shortly after the publication of the “Vision Statement.”  Awarded a two-year contract, Mr. Ogilvie was to lay the groundwork for the plan, develop strategies to initiate the “Vision’s” proposals and facilitate the Majority’s goals and objectives.  

A year and a half later, what of the “Vision”?  And what’s been accomplished?

Less than a year into the plan, Mr. Ogilvie the central architect, found himself under attack.  Members of the New Majority accused him of moving too slowly and not aggressively implementing their objectives, such as increasing the charter school footprint in the District.  A hidden power struggle between Mr. Ogilvie and Mr. Paladino, in particular, erupted into an open conflict when Paladino threatened to fire Ogilvie unless he resigned.  Citing Ogilvie’s “betrayal” of the Majority’s agenda, Mr. Paladino launched his own advocacy campaign, to appoint the next Superintendent – a principal.  By July 2015, the District was again without a Superintendent, leading to the appointment of HR Director Darren Brown as the third Interim in 12 months.  The District lost precious months in the search for a new Superintendent as the majority refused to engage in an open and inclusive process.  Even after the agreement to open a national search, Paladino refused to participate and continued to advocate for his own internal candidates.  The hiring of current Superintendent Kriner Cash was accompanied by some threats and insults from Mr. Paladino, who has begrudgingly accepted Dr. Cash.

Oh, and what of the plan to increase charter schools in the District?   An attempt to give selected charter schools existing Buffalo school buildings was proposed by Mr. Quinn in January of this year.  It led to a protracted process during which three charters requested to takeover Bennett High School and MLK Multi-Cultural Institute.  Never mind that these buildings had children in them who the charters would not be taking or that they wanted the buildings for free.  Resistance from the community and minority board members coupled with the failure of the majority to undertake due diligence ended this attempt to undermine our District, for now.  After much wasted time and talent, the Board was informed by the Corporation Counsel (thanks to Mrs. Cottman’s initiative) that the Buffalo Board is not authorized to dispose of school buildings.  Closed buildings must be returned to the City.  Consequently the charters would have to negotiate with the City, not the Board, for use of any school buildings.

And that goal to have transfer agreements with suburban schools?  Just the mention of this idea in a Buffalo News article resulted in a flurry of hateful, hostile and racist comments opposing the suggestion.

Then there is the Office of Civil Rights mandate to increase equitable access to Buffalo’s Criterion schools.  Ironically, one of the “Vision’s” goal states “Approximately 2,000 children apply but are denied admission to City Honors, Olmsted, da Vinci and Hutch Tech. The high demand for these schools makes a strong case for their expansion. The Board should plan to increase this option by 800 seats by 2015-2016.” Yet Mr. Paladino’s response to the serious matter of the OCR finding has been to publicly denigrate the consultant who recommended solutions to address documented disparities.   He has also repeatedly questioned the authority and jurisdiction of the Office of Civil Rights.  This behavior has not gone unnoticed by the OCR.  Dr. Orfield, the consultant, provided a written response questioning the failure to comprehend the magnitude of the problem and the lack of civility.  Mr. Paladino has created an environment that has made it difficult for the District to comply with the OCR requirement for a plan that addresses the finding of inequity for children of color in this District and contradicts his “Vision Statement’s” own goal.

There’s not enough space to fully critique the reform agenda proposed in the Majority’s “Vision Statement”.  The  “Vision Statement” proposed numerous objectives “to break the cycle of educational failure”.  Instead outcomes produced by the actions of the Board majority have resulted in undermining the District’s stability, increasing organizational dysfunction, micromanagement by Board members, and poor staff morale to name a few.  And now there is infighting between majority Board members that exacerbates Board instability.  It would seem that, under their management, the Board majority’s vision; a dream for “high performing schools” has been turned into a nightmare plan for disassembling a school district.  Perhaps that was the goal all along.  Dr. Cash would be well advised to throw this “Vision Statement” in the trash where it belongs and concentrate on developing a plan that puts students at the center of the agenda.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Response to the Paladino Motions of October 9 2015

To:  Buffalo Board of Education and Kriner Cash, Superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools
From:  Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD, At-Large Member of the Board
Date:  October 14, 2015
CC:  Community Stakeholders
Re:  For the Record:  Response to the Proposed Motions of Carl P. Paladino

The following comments, in red, respond to the motions/resolutions submitted by Board member Paladino in the attached memo of October 9, 2015.  The BOE has a set of By-laws to govern its policy decisions and expectations about Board member ethics and responsibilities.  Mr. Paladino prefers to ignore those by-laws and to make up his own rules.  However, with respect to many of these motions, before the Board can consider them it should practice due diligence in gathering information as required by the following:

According to the Board By-laws: Policy 1510
No committee, nor the entire Board, will act, study, or decide upon an issue unless the supporting documentation has been made freely available to all Board members at least 48 hours in advance of the above mentioned action

Board Policy 1511-
The Board of Education shall not attempt to decide upon any question under consideration before examining and evaluating relevant information.  The Superintendent of Schools shall be given an opportunity to examine and to evaluate all such information, and to recommend action before the Board attempts to make a decision.

To:       Buffalo Board of Education (BOE) and Kriner Cash, Superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools
From:  Carl P. Paladino
Date:   October 9, 2015
Cc:      Everybody else
Re:      Agenda for the October 14, 2015 meeting of the Board of Education (BOE)

I move the following resolutions:

1.)  Item # 51; Motion # 56.  Attendance. 

Whereas, we note the hypocrisy of the ex-parte action of minority members to cancel the committee meetings of the BOE scheduled for October 7, 2015, so they could attend their free vacations to California paid for by the BPS leaving hanging vital and urgent matters that were to be discussed for the next Board meeting, and 

Whereas, the attendance problems in the BPS are at a critical stage, many children have not even shown up for their first class of this school year and the Buffalo News has reported extensively on the attendance tragedy.

Now therefore, be it resolved that the Superintendent shall:

A.). Notwithstanding any prior instruction, instruct all teachers, supervised by their principals, to take the actual attendance of all students in all classes during the school day and enter truthful information into the BPS computer system, and

B.). Notwithstanding any prior instruction, including the use of restorative justice, instruct principals and teachers to develop individual case studies on children frequently absent and discipline students who are chronically absent strictly under the terms of the Student Code Of Conduct policy, and, in the most severe cases, where parents are found to be culpable, file charges with the Buffalo Police Department and/or Child Protective Services and prosecute irresponsible parents for failure to ensure that their children attend school, and

C.) Modify the present attendance program which provides that unless marked absent a student is presumed to be present.  To obtain accurate attendance records on individual students to inform parents and or prosecute, the program shall henceforth provide that a child is presumed absent unless specifically marked present by the teacher.

The cancellation of the student achievement committee on October 7th is the second or third time in almost three years since Dr. Harris-Tigg began to chair this Committee that the meeting was cancelled.

While two Committees are scheduled to meet on the same day, each is an independent committee not restricted by the other. The cancellation of the October 7th Student Support Committee was not required because the other committee was not meeting.  The cancellation of the Student Support Committee was the choice and the decision of Ms. Pierce, the Chair.  It did not have to be cancelled because two members were going to be absent.  Seven Board members were still able to attend.  And if the subject was of such great importance as indicated by Mr. Paladino then he should have insisted that the Committee meeting take place.

In fact, neither Mr. Paladino nor Mr. Quinn has attended Student Support Committee or Student Achievement Committee meetings for the last few months. Their absence has been noticeable including comment from the Buffalo News reporters who regularly attend these meetings.  Furthermore, these meetings have proceeded without their attendance.  Other important topics, such as Reports on Special Education Related to Student Achievement; Physical Education Updates; Over Age, Under Credited Programs; Assessment Scores have been the subject of Committee agenda.  These subjects are as timely and important as the attendance issue and require Board member knowledge and comprehension as we make policy and budget decisions.   

Mr. Paladino’s sudden attention and concern about board member attendance at committee meetings that both he and Mr. Quinn want to eliminate is another example of his own hypocrisy, distortion of the truth, lack of attention to detailed information, failure to cite accurate data, and continued harassment and bullying of the African American Women on the Board.

As for the Absenteeism problem, surprisingly Mr. Paladino and I agree that the District has a serious problem that needs to be addressed, although I question his claims about the documentation of attendance.  In order to develop an Attendance Policy, the Board should have much more information than the anecdotal information that Mr. Paladino is fond of touting.

Mr. Paladino also regularly makes incendiary statements to get attention and to distract from the nature of the problems.  The proposal to threaten parents with Child Protective Services or Police arrests (e.g. File charges with the Buffalo Police Department and/or Child Protective Services and prosecute irresponsible parents for failure to ensure that their children attend school”) is punitive and will create a school environment that is hostile, re-enforcing the negative views that some parents have of our schools.  As has been pointed out regarding the motions in this litany of directives Mr. Paladino wants to dictate to the Board and Administration, this motion is presented absent factual information that substantiates the Mr. Paladino’s claims.  If he has data then it should be offered to support these motions/directives that have serious ramifications for our school community.   

2.)  Item #52.  Motion #57.  Appointment, hiring and promotion practices and Tenure. I move that:

A.)  all teachers in the BPS be advised that when administrators from their schools are being considered or evaluated for tenure, they should report their concerns to any member of the BOE and further report any retaliation or recrimination from minority board members or staff that may result, and

B.) the administration contract the services of an auditor to investigate the Human Resources division of the BPS with respect to its practices concerning the appointment, hiring and promotion of  BPS staff for the past five years, including specifically the records, evaluations, interview documents and notes relevant to such decisions and actions to determine whether or not equitable, just, best practices were followed especially with reference to the granting of tenure to Principals or assistant Principals, and

C.) that a notice be sent to all teachers, administrators and other staff that they shall report to any BOE member any complaints they may have with reference to decisions made with respect to hiring, appointments and promotions that they consider to have been done improperly and not based on merit but instead on friends and family relationships.

This motion and its directives are totally out of line with the authority that Board members.  The Board has one employee that it oversees and evaluates: the Superintendent.  This motion encourages micromanagement and sets up inappropriate, divisive and disruptive communication between Board members and staff members about operational and personnel issues.  It undermines the supervisor/supervisee relationship and supports dysfunctional Board/staff relations. 

A legal opinion is requested, from Mr. Kristoff, the Board’s Special Counsel regarding the legality of these directives vis √† vis New York State Education Law.

3.)  Item # 54.  Motion #59.  Neighborhood Schools. 

Whereas, the BPS spends over $55 million a year on busing elementary students, and;

Whereas, many young children spend too many hours commuting to school each day;

Whereas, most children are bused from a neighborhood with a focus or priority school to another neighborhood with a focus or priority school;

Whereas, busing young children to schools miles from their home leads to high absenteeism, and parent disengagement

Whereas, transporting children from the familiar surroundings of their own neighborhoods creates barriers to parental and student participation in school and after school interaction with teachers and community programs;

Whereas, neighborhood schools have been proven to encourage parent participation in the education of their children, and the community and parents have overwhelmingly indicated their support and desire to return to Neighborhood Schools,

Therefore be it resolved that the Superintendent will prepare a plan to submit to SED for a model program consisting of up to 10 elementary schools in various districts in the city to be designated as neighborhood schools.

This motion makes a lot of suppositional statements that are not verified by data or information that supports these sweeping assumptions.  Any discussion about the establishment of neighborhood schools should come with substantial data on issues such as individual school demographics especially in the schools proposed as the neighborhood schools, the impact of busing on school attendance and student achievement, parental engagement, Choice, etc (again, many of the statements made in this motion are anecdotal and this subject is too important to rely on a few stories). 

Given the District’s recent OCR mandate, it will be extremely important to make certain that we are not creating another situation that may result in a similar action.  The study should be done before a request to establish neighborhood schools is made to SED. This motion should be sent to Committee where this information could be presented to the full Board for ultimate decision.  Public comment must be invited and included before instituting this major change.

4.)  Item # 55.  Motion #60.  SEED Schools.


A). Many of the students in the BPS are from highly at risk homes or are characterized as homeless, and

B).  Statistics bear out that without appropriate guidance, nutrition, discipline, development of study habits and exercise from a young age such "at risk" students are not given a fair opportunity for education and become doomed to failed lives. 

C). SEED schools are residential schools and nationally they have provided an answer, other than finger pointing at the failure of parents who in most cases are victims of the same dysfunctional society and school systems that their children are in. 

I move that the Superintendent prepare a plan to seek funding from the NYS Education Department for a model program to develop a Seed school in the BPS.

This is another example of a motion that lacks substantive information.  It should be sent to committee for further data gathering and Board and community discussion.  The District is under numerous mandates to establish new criterion schools, improve receivership schools, and on and on and on.  In a District that has a new Superintendent and is still without key administrative staff, the question is, Do we have the capacity to embark on this activity?  This is a pet project of Mr. Paladino.

5.). Barbara Nevergold-- 

Whereas, Ms Nevergold intentionally and deliberately has violated her fiduciary duties in her attempts to terminate the investigation of the Joint Schools Construction Project (see attached memo),

Now Therefore, I move that the BOE declare Ms Nevergold in conflict for all matters having to do with the Joint Schools Construction Project and require her to recuse herself from any further deliberations on the same.

Contrary to Mr. Paladino’s assertions, I have fulfilled my fiduciary obligations by questioning the attempt of Board members Paladino and Quinn to summarily dissolve the Joint Schools Construction Board and declare the Board of Education the sole fiduciary body for the Joint Schools Construction Project going forward.  The JSC Board was created by the State Legislature.  This action was further supported by a change in the Buffalo City Charter.  My questions have been about the locus of legal authority to make decisions about the dissolution of the JSC Board and the investiture of the JSC Board authority with the Buffalo Board of Education.

I have, in no way interfered with any investigation as my actions have been to seek information in response to Mr. Paladino’s Resolution at the September 23rd. Board meeting,  which would have made the Board responsible for the Joint Schools Project.  What is at stake is a major fiduciary burden that would be assumed by the Board of Education.  Mr. Paladino and Mr. Quinn are willing to allow these questions to go unanswered and to have the Board launch a costly forensic audit and possible lawsuit.  The Board minority was not willing to vote blindly for such a resolution.  Demanding answers is fulfilling our fiduciary responsibilities.

I and the other minority Board members have asked, in writing, for a legal opinion.  We have written to the Mayor (no response), the Corporation Counsel (they report to the Mayor and responded that they could not respond to the specific questions asked in the email), JSC Attorneys from Harter Secrest & Emery LLP (they also could not respond as they report to the Mayor) and to the Harter, Secrest & Emery LLP Attorney hired by the Board to investigate LP Ciminelli, who responded that questions about the dissolution of the Joint Schools Construction Board were not part of their engagement letter, so they could not respond.  The Board’s Special Counsel, Karl Kristoff, Esq. could not respond because of a perceived conflict of interest.  His law firm, Hodgson Russ LLP represents the Ciminelli Company.

We are still seeking answers to the questions:

Who has the authority to dissolve the Joint Schools Construction Board?
Who has the authority to make the Board of Education the principal for the Joint Schools Project going forward?
What is the fiduciary liability for the Buffalo School District?
What are legal ramifications would accompany this responsibility?

Furthermore, Mr. Paladino originally cited my one year membership on the JSC Board as the reason for the demand that I recuse myself from any actions on this matter.  That demand was dropped once he learned that Mr. McCarthy had also been a member of the JSC Board during his term of office and would be subject to the same recusal as being required of me.

I am requesting legal representation in this matter as it is obvious that Mr. Paladino has targeted me for discriminatory actions and will use any means to bully and harass me.

6.). Sargent at Arms--

I move that the BOE appoint a Sargent at Arms for the purpose of keeping order at BOE meetings including matters that have to do with non BOE members and situations where BOE members are out of order for violating Roberts Rules when they blurt out or speak other that when recognized by the chair.

I believe that the Board already has a Sargent at Arms; it’s the District’s counsel.

7.). Travel, etc. reimbursement:
Whereas the Buffalo Public School District faces very serious financial challenges in the coming year including but not limited to

1.       Reduction of class sizes in all elementary schools
2.       Funding a new teachers contract
3.       Funding extended after school programs
4.        Funding Teacher training for early elementary reading and math
5.       Funding  at least one new elementary school in accordance with the OCR complaint
6.       Funding turn around plans in 25 receiver schools, and

Whereas a limited number of Board members account for all out of town travel expenditures

Whereas the cost of membership in such organizations as The Big .5, NYSBAA, and Council of  Great City Schools takes funds from our critical mission

Whereas Board perks such as free meals, free office supplies and mileage reimbursement for in-city travel also take funds away from our critical mission

Therefore be it resolved that the Board eliminate all travel, all mileage reimbursement, all free meals and all free office supplies immediately

And it be further resolved that the Superintendent immediately report to the Board on the cost of all outside membership organizations and provide an evaluation of their importance to the District

Much discussion has taken place about this issue at the very time that Board members (myself and Dr. Harris-Tigg) were attending a conference in California. The issue was already slanted before this motion was proposed but certainly to support and sensationalize it.

I think that Board professional development should be the subject of discussion.  That includes professional development that Board members attend on their own time, do not require funding, and occur routinely in the community and in our schools.  Board members have the obligation to be knowledgeable and informed as we make policy decisions for this District. In fact it’s an expectation that we require of ourselves.

Board Policy 1311, Code of Conduct states in paragraph J:  
Maintain familiarity with educational issues through study and participation in programs providing needed information, such as those sponsored by State and National School Boards Associations;
The expenditures noted above are planned in the Board’s budget and each Board member has the opportunity to attend professional development opportunities offered by conference participation.  This should be subject of the Finance Committee for consideration during the development of the budget for the coming year, not by the arbitrary decisions of one Board member.  I would welcome a discussion of these items and am open to looking at how these funds may be used more efficiently.

There is merit in memberships in professional organizations that should be studied very carefully before they are eliminated from the budget.  The District is part of a statewide system that includes over 700 Districts, which interact individually and collectively with the State Education Department.  The Big 5 Conference and NYSSBA, for example offer services that facilitate this interaction, advocate with the State Legislature on funding and policy decisions and provide a service to the Board that would be difficult for District staff to provide.  The clich√© penny-wise but pound foolish applies in this instance.

As the Board examines these expenditures, I’d point out that, a major source of recent costly expenditures negatively impacting the District’s budget can be found in the increasing number of unplanned, un-budgeted lawsuits that have been incurred.  Perhaps Mr. Paladino doesn’t want to examine those expenditures as many of them result from lawsuits filed by staff members because of his behavior and actions.  

I am requesting a detailed list of those lawsuits, similar to the report requested by Mr. Quinn regarding Board travel and conference attendance that was sent to the press.

8.). Conduct of meetings and BOE activities: 


A). The conduct of members and others at BOE meetings is a disgraceful, chaotic mess resulting in dysfunction, and

B). The conduct of some public speakers is repetitive, out of sorts, demeaning and uninformative, and

C). It is incumbent upon the BOE to restore order to its deliberation and function:

Therefore be it resolved, that

1). The public speakers program be held once per month at a regularly scheduled meeting and that speakers be allowed to speak no more often that once each 60 days.

2). Monday Executive Committee meetings with Kriner Cash and BOE members shall be discontinued.

3). The President of the BOE and Committee chairs shall strictly enforce Roberts Rules of order in the conduct of all meetings, and

4).  Any person ejected from a BOE meeting or sub-committee meeting for any misbehavior shall not be allowed to return to any BOE or committee meetings for the period of one year.

5). Kieth Jones, considering his past behavior, shall not be allowed to attend any BOE meetings for the term of one year. 

6). No BOE subcommittee or BOE meeting may be adjourned or cancelled unless by telephonic vote of a majority of the BOE, and

7).  BOE members shall immediately report to the President the receipt of monies or any gratuities or gifts in any manner or form from any vendors, including any labor unions, who contract with the BPS.

8). If a member of the BOE member is supported for election in any way, including by endorsement or otherwise, by a labor union that contracts with the BOE, that member shall be conflicted and shall thereafter recuse himself or herself from any deliberation on matters involving that labor union.

Own it.  Mr. Paladino should look inward for the response to this statement in his motion.
If it is incumbent on the BOE to restore order and deliberation to its session, then the BOE needs to start with itself; nothing in this motion offers any self-insight, honest self-assessment or acceptance of responsibility by its proposer.  Requests have been made repeatedly for a Board retreat.  Mr. Paladino has said he will not attend and yet this process has been shown to be a productive way for Board members and the Superintendent to set mutual goals and objectives.

As for the other propositions in this motion, I would point out the following:

1.      The Board has a Public Participation Policy #1513 that outlines the structure of the Public Speaking portion of Board meetings.  The attempt to change this policy is contradictory to the Board’s By-laws and devalues the input of parent and community stakeholders.  It also sends a message that is questionable in what appears to be an attempt to prevent the exercise of the right to free speech.  In addition, Item 4 of this motion is arbitrary and capricious; it does not define “misbehavior” and the one year moratorium is also arbitrary.  None of this has been brought to the full Board for action that adheres to our by-laws.
2.      What is the “past behavior” ascribed to Mr. Keith Jones?  A review of the meeting at which Mr. Jones is alleged to have threatened Mr. Paladino reveals that there is no threat inherent in his words or demeanor.  This singling out of Mr. Jones is a violation of his right to address the Board at Board or Committee meetings.
3.       Motion #6 is absurd in the face of the attempt on the part of the maker and some others Board members to cancel and eliminate the committee meetings all together.  A review of the last 12 months of Committee meetings, attendance of Board members and number of times cancelled is requested in order to have complete, accurate data on the actual number of times that meetings have been cancelled /adjourned.
4.      The Board’s Ethics Policy covers this item.
5.      Motion #8; maybe we should add the following: charter school organizations; Individuals with investments in charter schools or alternate educational systems; owners of development companies with ownership in charter school properties; foundation leaders; political clubs: The list is endless and the bias is obvious.

9). Violence: 

Whereas, it is apparent that the unwritten policy of the BPS has been to cover up and not report to proper police or other authorities events of violence including physical and verbal assault, fights, sexual misconduct, etc., and

Whereas, I t is the desire of the community that the BOE strictly and immediately take action to stop all bullying and violence of any nature in the BPS,

Now therefore, be it resolved that the Superintendent immediately set out procedures to report to the Buffalo Police Dept or other appropriate police or social services agency any physical or emotional assault, sexual misconduct or violence by a student, teacher, administrator, other BPS employee, contractor or parent and insure that a public record is made of every such event and the event be reported to the BOE.  The administration shall advise all BPS constituencies that it is no longer the policy of the BPS to cover up or handle within the schools such onerous activities.

This is another instance of hypocrisy of the highest order.  Bullying is going on right at the Buffalo Board of Education’s Board table.  This do as I say, not as I do approach is symptomatic of an individual who will not take responsibility for his own behavior and actions and of other members of this body who will not hold him or themselves accountable.

10). I nominate Larry Quinn to be the President of the BOE and Jay McCarthy to be the Vice President of the BOE for the present school year effective immediately.   

This motion is out of order.  The process for the election of officers is determined by the Board’s bylaws. Policy #1320

11). No contracts, purchases or other engagements shall be sent to the BOE for approval without at least 3 bids submitted and the prior sign off of terms by competent counsel.

There are sole source providers and vendors who choose not to bid, which leads to having fewer than 3 bids submitted; this is an item that should be sent to committee for review before a decision is made.  It may create a problem of timeliness in processing and obtaining needed services and products in our schools.  The purpose for this motion needs to be detailed.

12). The risk assessment survey presently being conducted with students age 6 to 14 shall be terminated immediately.

What “risk assessment survey” and what is the rationale for terminating this assessment?  This is not a motion that proposes review and rational decision-making. It is a dictate by one Board member and as such is unacceptable.

13). The BOE should be immediately given a briefing by Counsel as to all employees off on paid leave for any reason whatsoever together with names and reasons, time off and rate of pay.

14). The condom program shall immediately be discontinued if favor of a "Healthy Respect “model used in Yonkers.

Again, what data, study, or research justifies this motion?  This is not a motion that proposes review and rational decision-making. It is a dictate by one Board member and as such is unacceptable.

15).  I nominate Kevin Eberle as interim Deputy Superintendent--Chief Operating Officer of the BPS.

Simply stated, the hiring of the District’s staff is the Superintendent’s responsibility, not the Board’s.  This is micromanagement and a glaring example of the Friends and Family hiring that Mr. Paladino rails against.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

King Becomes US Secretary of Education

Last Friday’s announcement that Dr. John B. King, Jr will be appointed Acting US Secretary of Education has generated much speculation about what this could mean for the Buffalo Schools.  Both his supporters and critics can envision the positives and negatives associated with Dr. King’s powerful new role.  And given his prior history with, focus on and knowledge of the challenges of urban districts, Buffalo as a prime example, one can imagine that the city schools may receive special attention from the new Secretary.

Contrary to popular belief, however, Buffalo is not unique in this state or in the country for that matter for the distinction of having a school district with serious problems.  Yet Dr. King will undoubtedly call on his New York State experience and use Buffalo and other urban districts (Rochester and Syracuse) as exemplars of his philosophy of how to fix “failing schools”.   He doesn’t officially assume his position until December.  In the meantime, both his record in New York State and his blueprint for the direction he will take US SED will be the subjects of further conversation and scrutiny.  As for his Buffalo record, let me remind the readers of a few of Dr. King’s decisions that adversely affected our School District.

Remember:  as the Commissioner, he made the phrase “building the plane, while flying it”, describing the implementation of the Common Core and its accompanying high stakes testing system, the rallying cry for every questionable educational “reform” idea that is poorly conceived and even more poorly implemented.   The current approach to create Receivership schools is another example of the mentality that produced the former expression.  In fact it appears that the State Education Department under its present leadership is continuing to walk in the path(s) built by John King.

Remember:  as the Commissioner, he forced the District to send East and Lafayette High School students to BOCES for CTE (vocational) programs, many of which are offered in the District.  This unfunded mandate cost the District nearly $8,000 in tuition for each student (almost double the expense to offer the same vocational course in the District).  The results?  In 2013-14:  33 of 77 (43%) students sent to BOCES passed their courses.  The following year, 2014-15, 52 of 96 students or 54% were on track to complete the BOCES classes.  In contrast, the graduation rate for students completing programs in the Buffalo CTE schools exceeds 86%.

Remember:  as the Commissioner, he appointed Dr. Judy Elliott, in 2012, as the Distinguished Educator.   She was reappointed in 2013 and 2014.  She was hired “to assess the learning environment in the District's Persistently Lowest Achieving and Priority Schools, serve as ex-officio member of the District’s Board of Education, and review and make recommendations regarding the plans developed by the District for its Persistently Lowest Achieving and Priority Schools”.  This is another State mandate that cost the District $110,000 to $120,000 for each year of this consultancy.

During her tenure, Dr. Elliott developed action plans but it remains to be seen what improvement has resulted from this work.  In fact, given the continued pressure on the District during her term and impending Receivership, one would have to conclude that Dr. Elliott has not helped the District to improve its priority and focus schools.   It should be noted that the evaluation of Dr. Elliott’s performance is the purview of the Commissioner.  However, as with her appointment the Board has never been consulted regarding her performance. And to my knowledge, no evaluation has been shared or made public by the Commissioner.  What does this say about the equity of the State’s accountability standards?  Buffalo was used as the testing ground for a new strategy that didn’t work for us and since no other District in the State has a DE apparently is not a workable strategy for school improvement anywhere.

A year ago, last December; the picture was very different for Dr. King.  He left the New York State Education Department for Washington.  Supporters lamented his leaving but there were many opponents who thought it was time for a change.  I wrote a column at the time and since we’re remembering Dr. King, the Commissioner of NY SED, here is the concluding paragraph:

Will Dr. King be missed?  Most certainly.  Should we be worried?  Not in the least. His legacy, not just in Buffalo but across this state is one of oppressive mandates, seemingly personal petty politics, failure to dialogue with parents and other stakeholders, insistence on  imposing the Common Core and incessant standardized testing tied to teacher evaluation and other “reforms”  that have not been validated.  The results, however, have been detrimental to the educational system statewide.   So as Dr. King exits the State Education Department and the Regents begins a national search, we must be vigilant to demand that the next Commissioner provide the open, transparent and honest interaction that has been demanded of us.

As Dr. King takes the reins of his new position, I think the last sentence could easily apply to him as public education advocates across this nation will demand accountability, transparency and communication with the incoming Secretary.  I look forward to Dr. King’s next visit to the Buffalo Public Schools.  His dialogue with the Board should be quite interesting; that is if he meets with all of us.