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Williams Evaluation a Conflict of Interest?

dyouville She may have lost her seat on the school board in the May 5 election, but that is not stopping outgoing board member Catherine Collins from fulfilling her duty as Chairperson of the Executive Affairs Committee.

Tomorrow, May 20, the committee will meet in room 801 in city hall, at 4pm. Among the topics addressed will be the evaluation of Superintendent James Williams. These evaluations can lead to contract extensions and raises for the superintendent. (Click here for a copy of the Williams’s contract signed by board member Florence Johnson on May 23, 2007.)

Yesterday was the deadline for school board members to submit their evaluations of Williams to Sister Denise Roche, President of D’Youville College.

Roche is scheduled to give a summary presentation to the Executive Affairs Committee tomorrow at 6pm.

On Friday, May 15, I called Sister Roche to ask about her involvement with the superintendent’s evaluation—something she has participated in before. I left a message to that effect with her secretary. I called again yesterday, and was told she was out of town.

I left a message saying I was seeking comment from her about whether she felt it was appropriate for a nun, the president of a college, to be involved in the evaluation of the superintendent of a school system that pays that college somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million per year to house one of its schools, in this case, the DaVinci Academy. According to school district documents, the current annual cost to the district is $1.1 million, or $790,000, excluding capital improvements. The lease with D’Youville expires in August 2013, and was signed by Roche.

Repeated attempts to contact Roche have been unsuccessful. Today I left a message indicating that I was trying to get Roche’s response to a letter delivered to her yesterday by school board member Catherine Nugent Panepinto—a formal request that Roche recuse herself from further involvement in the superintendent’s evaluation.

“I greatly appreciate your willingness to coordinate the evaluation and greatly respect your commitment to education in Buffalo. However, your status as a signatory to a contract with the Board of Education raises a conflict of interest with your role as evaluation coordinator,” Nugent Panepinto writes, “Interests such as your interest in the contract between D’Youville College and the Board of Education are generally addressed in New York State General Municipal Law § 800, wherein conflicts of interest are defined.”

Nugent Panepinto took heat from some board members at last night’s meeting, for sending the letter to Roche.

It seems clear that Roche will not respond to the  inquiries of a  journalist, but maybe she will respond to the request of a school board member.

Then again, maybe she won’t.

McIntyre Falls Short

Bryon McIntyre

Bryon McIntyre

Buffalo fireman Bryon McIntyre lost his tenuous lead in the three-way race for the third and final at-large seat on the Buffalo school board today, when absentee ballots were tallied. Incumbent Florence Johnson won the seat; McIntyre fell behind both Johnson and incumbent Catherine Collins.

So it’s John Licata, Chris Jacobs, and Florence Johnson in the at-large seats.

McIntyre stopped by the Artvoice offices after the voted were counted. You can watch Buck Quigley’s interview with him on AVTV in the morning.

Over at the Buffalo News, Peter Simon keeps insisting that the election was a referendum on Superintendent James Williams. I guess there’s an argument to be made there, though I think that’s simplistic.

This, though is puzzling. Simon writes:

The chances of Buffalo Schools Superintendent James A. Williams retaining majority support on the Buffalo Board of Education brightened today when incumbent Florence D. Johnson captured the board’s third at-large seat…

With Johnson, Williams has four supporters on the board. With Licata, he’s got five critics. Are things really so bright for Williams?

School Board Election Update

Yesterday the Erie County Board of Elections double-checked the voting machines retallied the ballots cast last Tuesday in the Board of Education at-large races. Incumbent Florence Johnson picked up 20 votes, while challenger Bryon McIntyre picked up 12. So, in the race for the still contested third seat, McIntryre leads Johnson by 50 votes and incumbent Catherine Collins by 63 votes.

The absentee ballots will be counted tomorrow at 10am.

A Plea from Andrew Rudnick

Artvoice has obtained this email sent today from Buffalo Niagara Partnership President & CEO Andrew Rudnick, imploring the receiver to forward it to “colleagues, friends and family, especially those who are registered voters in the city of Buffalo – and ask them to forward it along to others.”

Even though it didn’t land in my email directly, we thought it would be a nice gesture to shine a light on it for all our readers.

This intimate appeal is in addition to the over $30,000 in assistance the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and/or their offshoot Buffalo Students First (which has yet to file a DBA, as we learned in court today) has spent promoting the incumbent school board candidates in tomorrow’s election. The incumbents did not authorize the support from Buffalo Students First, and the assistance they provided was over the $25 limit prescribed by law—by at least $30,000 as of April 30.

Tomorrow, May 5, elections for the Buffalo Public School Board will be held.

Please forward this email to colleagues, friends and family, especially those who are registered voters in the city of Buffalo – and ask them to forward it along to others. Buffalo School Board elections (given they are months from “general election day”) have dismal turnout, and races often have been decided by a few hundred votes. Thus, each vote can make a big difference.

The Partnership is supporting at-large candidates Dr. Catherine Collins, Florence Johnson and Christopher Jacobs. We believe these candidates are the best qualified to manage the schools’ $600+ million budget, will stand up in favor of reform in the system and are not beholden to the efforts of Buffalo Teacher Federation President Philip Rumore — which for too long have obstructed the change that is in the best interest of Buffalo’s school children.

Why should you care? Even if you don’t have children in the Buffalo Public Schools?

1). Buffalo is our region’s core  — and the success or failure of the Buffalo Public Schools is directly linked to how the city fares. Currently:

Buffalo is the nation’s third-poorest city, according to the U.S. Census.
The Buffalo metro area has the highest black male jobless rate (51.4 percent) among American’s 35 large cities, according to figures cited by Professor Marc V. Levine of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Nearly two-thirds of adults in Buffalo function at the two lowest levels of literacy, meaning they can’t function at the minimum level of literacy employers in our region require for any job higher than entry level.
Thirty-five percent of Buffalo Public School children don’t graduate high school.
2). At a time when many students are not graduating from high school prepared for postsecondary education and work, 60 percent of the new jobs being created require advanced training or a college education. If our region’s workforce can’t meet employer needs, we will lose existing companies, and will not be able to recruit new businesses to invest in our region.

3). The availability of high-quality human talent is a top issue facing businesses today. Nationwide, business leaders increasingly place improving public education at the top of their list of priorities because they believe the education system in the United States fails to produce graduates prepared to compete both locally and in a global economy.

Buffalo’s young people deserve a better future, and our employers need them to graduate from public school prepared to contribute to the local workforce – in order ensure their own businesses have future viability in our community. Public education in the city is one place to start, and the Buffalo Public School Board elections will play no minor part.

Please vote tomorrow for Dr. Catherine Collins, Florence Johnson and Christopher Jacobs. Thanks – a lot of our future depends on the outcome.
Andrew J. Rudnick
President & CEO
P:  (716) 852-7100
F:  (716) 852-1756

Jody Vohwinkel, Executive Assistant to the President & CEO

The Partnership extends its thanks to the member businesses in its Leadership Circle.
These companies represent the Partnership’s most significant financial supporters.

WIVB Channel 4 reporter Rich Newberg just reported on today’s lawsuit during the 5pm broadcast. Tune in WIVB at 6pm tonight for more details.

Buffalo school board elections are tomorrow, May 5. Don’t forget to vote.

Byron Brown, Crystal Peoples, Antoine Thompson, and Buffalo Students First


What’s the message Buffalo Students First is sending to voters this weekend promoting the incumbent candidates, three days before the school board election? That depends on where you live in the city of Buffalo.

First, here’s a mailer sent by Buffalo Students First to voters in the 144th Assembly District, represented by Sam Hoyt. The message on the back begins: “The politicians and special interest groups want to take over control of our schools. We can’t allow that to happen…”

If that’s the case, what does one make of  this mailer sent by Buffalo Students First to city voters in the 141st Assembly District, represented by Crystal Peoples? Voters there, primarily African-American, received an open letter from Mayor Byron Brown, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, and State Senator Antoine Thompson, endorsing the incumbent slate of Florence Johnson, Catherine Collins, and Chris Jacobs.

Are Brown, Peoples, and Thompson not politicians? And is Buffalo Students First and/or the Buffalo Niagara Partnership  not a special interest group? News Flash: THE POLITICIANS AND SPECIAL INTERESTS CURRENTLY HAVE CONTROL OF OUR SCHOOLS. And it’s clear they will spend a great deal of money in the hope of keeping it that way.antoine_bio_pic

The blatant hypocrisy displayed by Buffalo Students First in sponsoring these two divergent messages should be offensive to every voter in the city. But there’s plenty of shame to go around here. Why would Brown, Peoples, and Thompson lend their support to a slate of candidates in an election that is held in May for the express reason that it should not  be political?

And why would the Buffalo Niagara Partnership hide behind a phony name like Buffalo Students First, when it is clear that they are directly involved in the funding of this campaign that preaches two different messages to urban voters based largely on the color of their skin? The evidence of their involvement is here in this one-page financial disclosure form, signed by Glenn Aronow, Director of Government Relations for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Then there’s Saturday’s Buffalo News, which contains this editorial endorsing the incumbents.

(While writing this blog, I have received a report from a resident of University Heights that all the cars in the neighborhood had anonymous flyers on the windshield this morning, referencing this Buffalo News endorsement of the status quo.)141

“Ideally, a School Board member encompasses a strong work ethic, willingness to do the necessary homework and the ability to ask the right questions and to come to a fair decision without undue political influence. Florence Johnson, Christopher Jacobs and Catherine Collins have done so, and deserve to continue in their current roles,” the News editorial staff opines, apparently with a straight face.

Is it not interesting that their very own columnists have offered contrary opinions? Consider Rod Watson’s May 29, 2008 article that begins, “Despite the many things the Buffalo Board of Education is probing in the McKinley High School fiasco, one critical issue has yet to surface: What to do about board members who appear to lie to the public?”

Or Donn Esmonde, who wrote on April 16, 2008: Put the pieces together, and you get a picture of what happens when a school system is run by the integrity-lite and the ethically challenged. They all will tell you that nothing matters more than the kids. Amazingly, their noses do not grow an inch when they say it.”

Watson summed it up also on July 3, 2008 in an article entitled: School Board lacks guts to do right thing. He begins: “Of all the reforms possible in the wake of the McKinley High School fiasco, the most obvious has yet to be mentioned: Students need a union. And lobbyists. And bigger allowances, so they can make campaign contributions to buy off legislators who write the laws that Buffalo school officials are hiding behind to avoid holding anyone accountable.”

“You can thank the unions and their grip on Albany’s legislative machine, as well as their intimidating ability to affect a School Board candidacy in elections with miniscule turnouts,” he continues.

Shall we also thank the editorial staff of his paper for their ability to try to do the very same thing?

Tuesday’s school board election will be decided by city voters. It should be decided by the parents of children who attend classes every day in the city of Buffalo, and by every city resident who recognizes the critical importance of improving the quality of education for the children of our impoverished city—where only 46% of students graduate from high school in four years—a number that has worsened over the past five years under the the questionable guidance of the incumbent at-large school board members, who now seek an additional five years to finish the job.

Their biggest success, they claim, is a $1 billion “state of the art” school renovation project that is so hopelessly out of touch with progressive green-building standards that the electrical bills to run the buildings will be an albatross around taxpayers’ necks long into the future.

The title of the Buffalo News editorial nails it on the head: Tuesday’s Buffalo school board vote will determine future of district.

Wouldn’t it be a surprising miracle if, when voters step into the booth this Tuesday, May 5, they remember the little voices of the children who deserve so much better, and forget the propaganda dumped upon them by business people from Niagara Falls and the suburbs, who would have us believe that things are just fine in the Buffalo Schools?


Buffalo Students First Has Pumped Over $30,000 Into School Board Election

money-flagAccording to documents obtained by Artvoice today, Buffalo Students First has spent $30,036 to advance the campaigns of Buffalo school board incumbents Catherine Collins, Chris Jacobs, and Florence Johnson, as of April 30.

Buffalo Students First is described by Buffalo Niagara Partnership Director of Government Relations Glenn Aronow as “a coaltion of businesses, community organizations and stakeholders, and school choice advocates that support progressive reforms and policies in educating Buffalo school children.”

Among the beneficiaries of BSF’s expenditures is Unity Coalition, Inc. The group received $4,000 from BSF between March 5 and April 3. According to records filed with the Erie County Clerk’s Office in 1995, Unity Coalition, Inc., was formed “to promote political action and awareness, and to do any other act or thing incidental to or connected with the foregoing purposes or in advancement thereof.”

The unity coalition incorporation documents were signed by Arthur  O. Eve, Jr., who is currently in line for the position of Democratic Deputy Commissioner of Elections.

In other important school board election news, the Erie County Board of Elections has indicated that any voters who have already submitted absentee ballots for disqualified candidate Fred Yellen may still cast a vote for another candidate by doing so at their designated polling place on the day of the election. We are awaiting word from elections officials on how else any such absentee voters can change their vote, now that their candidate is out of the running.

Yellen was scratched from the list of candidates last Saturday, April 25, after an objection to his signature petitions was filed by Herbert Bellamy, Jr—notarized by Aronow.

The Buffalo school board election is Tuesday, May 5—now just four days away.

The Citizens Strike Back

I-177-0316Click here to read the Show Cause Order filed today by attorney Peter A. Reese seeking to impel the release of financial information pertaining to the upcoming Buffalo school board election on May 5.

Five qualified voters are the petitioners seeking, among other things, the release of this public information. The respondents are superintendent James A. Williams, BPS clerk James M. Kane, school board members Christopher L. Jacobs, Catherine Collins, and Florence D. Johnson, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Buffalo Students First, and NYS Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills.

The court date is set for Monday, May 4 at 11am. Hon. Frederick J. Marshall, J.S.C. presiding.

Additional relief sought includes, in the alternative, the filing of revised campaign statements by the incumbents, or an injunction against further participation in school board elections by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and/or Buffalo Students First.

“Of interest, the section of the education law which allows the judge to order filing or revision of campaign statements contains a provision allowing the judge to grant immunity from criminal prosecution and thus compell testimony. Such a course of action would require further proceedings and take much more time than can be accommodated prior to the May 5 election,” Reese adds.

The petitioners’ primary objective on Monday will be to obtain a bench court order requiring the immediate release of all documents filed with clerk James M. Kane, pursuant to the conduct of the 2009 Buffalo school board election.

Buffalo-Niagara Partnership: Thinning the Herd of School Board Candidates

665-mainOn Saturday, Fred Yellen was scratched from the list of school board candidates for having insufficient signatures on his nomination petitions. Count this as a win for Herbert Bellamy, Jr., and Buffalo-Niagara Partnership Director of Government Relations Glenn Aronow—whose signatures appear on the specific objections paperwork, filed April 18.

The Buffalo-Niagara Partnership backs the incumbent slate of Collins, Jacobs, and Johnson through a “coalition” they call Buffalo Students First. Aronow claims they have also raised money and donated staff assistance to these candidates.

Challengers Rebekah Williams and John Licata’s petitions were still being challenged as of this morning. In the event they too are struck from the ballot, the field would shrink from nine candidates to six, one week before the election. This would leave Patricia Devis, Rosanna Hampton, and Bryon McIntyre as the only challengers to Collins, Jacobs, and Johnson.

No challenges were ever filed for the signature petitions of the incumbents.

Don’t forget tonight’s candidates forum at the Polish Cadets Hall, Grant and Amherst Street, 7-9pm.

Election Day is next Tuesday, May 5. In the last at-large Buffalo school board election, in 2004, fewer than 13,000 people voted. That’s only around 8% of registered voters. The winners will serve Buffalo’s schoolchildren for the next five years.

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