Buffalo Board of Ed Members Speak On the New Majority
by Artvoice Staff (@Artvoice) - posted 1:25 pm, June 19, 2014
Buffalo Board of Education Members Barbara Seals Nevergold and Florence Johnson have this to say about the new majority on the board:
In a stunning demonstration of lack of openness and transparency, West District Board member, James Sampson and incoming At-Large Board member, Larry Quinn purportedly met with State Education Department Commissioner John King in a secret meeting on June 6, 2014 in Albany, New York. As of this date, there has been no acknowledgement that this meeting occurred nor has any information been shared with the Board about the discussion with Dr. King. Although Mr. Sampson has acknowledged publicly that he was contacted by outgoing Deputy Commissioner, Ken Slentz regarding keeping Martin Luther King Jr. Institute open rather than closing it even after the state directed the District to close the school. The current Board President was not contacted or involved in any discussions on this matter prior to this information becoming public. Interestingly enough, it appears that the state leadership is behaving as though Mr. Sampson is in the leadership position of Board President, even though the current Board President maintains the position until an election is held July 1, 2014 and there is an official change in officers.
It is also significant to note that communication was woefully lacking with the state during the current leadership of the Board and Superintendent from the Commissioner’s office with most communication coming with lambasting and judgmental comments in the newspaper and edits from the state with little or no regard for collaboration, openness, or transparency. Yet, each of these expectations has been consistently asked of this Board and administration. I might also point out that there have been several earlier attempts by the current Board President to obtain a meeting with Commissioner King, involving other Board members and the Superintendent, all were unsuccessful.
As we continue to address the state’s requirements regarding Martin Luther King Jr. Institute from a letter dated May 28, 2014 along with the decisions regarding Bennett High School and School 115/97, we can say with certainty that neither the scheduling of this meeting nor the agenda has been shared with many current Board members. But given the obvious and widely reported actions that the new Majority, Majority Board intends to reverse the approval of changes in several schools, it would not be inaccurate to surmise that several topics from that agenda were and have been under discussion for some time. And quite frankly given the recent events, in and out of the Board room, of this last week it would appear that the fix was in and a part of the grand scheme to take over the Board and the District although the majority of the students in the District are students of color. The community should pay special attention to actions and promises made regarding the following issues:
1) After approval of the decision to close Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute Elementary school and open the Medical Campus School in the building, on very short notice the State has determined that the school can remain open for one more year. Presumably to give more time to plan for placement of the current children, but in the meantime word is that a new charter school will take over the building following this year. This school will be a Pre-K to 3rd grade school which will necessitate the displacement of children in another year and ultimately closure of Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute School. Board Member James Sampson reportedly stated at a recent Board meeting that there was interest in the school as a charter school. I ask you to be mindful of the desire by charter proponents of newly renovated schools in the District. Will all of these schools, including East all become charters under this New Majority, Majority Board after having spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars to meet the needs of the very children who will not be allowed to attend these schools or who will be admitted initially and returned to Buffalo Public Schools as it is done every year.
2) The Medical Campus School, supported by the funding of a $3.9 million dollar grant from the Department of Labor will be thrown into limbo, hopefully merely placed on hold rather than jeopardized, with the push by the New Majority, Majority to place it at East High School, a priority school under management of Johns Hopkins University, the District’s Educational Partnership Organization.
3) The merger of School 115 (the former Pinnacle charter school) with School 97 has been moving forward. However, although the current Board has not been apprised of the discussion, it appears that the State has found the money to keep paying the lease of school 115 in its current location. Yet, prior conversations with the State have resulted in a firm answer that no extension of the lease payments from the State would be made because the District has too many vacant seats.
4) The Commissioner has mandated that a turnaround plan be created for Bennett High School utilizing the upcoming school year to plan the academic program components of the school. A response from the plan submitted by the District for Bennett indicated that it was ambitious. Therefore, the District should take more time to work with the school community to submit an “approvable” plan due to State Ed by September 1st. Following a comprehensive selection process by a broad representation of parents and community, Dr. Constance Moss was recommended as the consultant to develop that plan. Dr. Moss’ contract came up for a vote on June 11th. But prior to the vote she was told by Mr. Paladino that her services wouldn’t be needed as the school was going to be closed. True to form, votes cast against the consultant contract by Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Paladino and Mr. Sampson resulted in Dr. Moss not being hired. The plan is to allow the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood to come back to Bennett and convert the school to a Charter school. I ask you if this course of events from the response to the District’s plan for Bennett High School to conjured up acts of violence and discipline, the unfounded attack on the leadership at the school, to the most recent decision to decrease the time that the consultant has to write the plan by denial of the contract, a part of the grand scheme which includes the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood?
It seems that the New Majority, Majority has a direct link to the Buffalo News. In fact, the June 14th Buffalo News Editorial, in trying to make a case for the plans of the incoming power block of the Board, regurgitates their stance along with a series of half-truths and misrepresentations.
- The “last-minute conversion of Pinnacle Charter School into Public School 115” was the result of the State Education Department’s closure order, two weeks before school started. The Buffalo Schools and its staff did a yeoman’s job in stepping in and creating a smooth transition for the students at Pinnacle in a short period of time.
- The State’s correspondence regarding the plan for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus never stated that “the middle school component of the new facility was poorly planned”. They stated that the plan was ambitious and they approved moving forward with grades 9 and 10 for that school.
- The State never articulated a problem with the District’s plan to merge School 97 and 115; however they did refuse a request to provide reimbursement for the lease of the building that currently houses 115 because of all the vacant seats throughout the District.
- At its meeting of June 11th, the Board did not approve the contract with Consultant Dr. Constance Moss, who was selected by a review panel of Bennett constituents to develop a plan. Dr. Moss’ contract failed because Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Sampson and Mr. Paladino refused to vote for the contract, in essence creating difficulty for the District to provide the State mandated plan within the proscribed time period. However, the District has succeeded in the past even under the worst of odds and we believe Dr. Moss will create an “approvable” plan.
Finally, the talk all over the City, County, Western New York and State for that matter is that BOCES retiring Superintendent Don Ogilvie is going to be the next Superintendent. How is that for transparency and openness? We have not even posted the position, finalized a job description, set up any interviews or discussed candidate merits. Our instincts tell us that this is not the only high level position that has been spoken for. Time will tell……….
Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, Board President
Florence Johnson, Member at Large