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 à 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 cliché 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.


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