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Paladino Complaint—The Uncut Version

In the interest of making public documents available to the public, here are links to Carl Paladino’s July 8 letter to Hon. William Hochul, US Attorney for the Western District of New York, regarding Buffalo Public Schools, complete with attached exhibits:

Letter to Hochul

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit E

Exhibit F

Unlike the Buffalo News website—which only provides a link to the letter—we here at Artvoice believe in full disclosure of public documents to our readers.

Plus, our paper is free.

Here is a link to “Paladino on the Warpath” in today’s print edition.

School-dazed and Confused

Much of the discussion in the Buffalo Board of Education meeting room in City Hall late Wednesday afternoon, as board members met to receive revisions to Superintendent James A. Williams’ school reform plans, had an obviously amicable tone.  There were calls for cooperation and collaboration between the various community interests and entities, including from the sometimes contentious and controversial Williams.  Near the meeting’s end, he rose, microphone in hand, to avuncularly commend audience members’ commitment and “passion,” minutes after some of them had objected to aspects of his performance and programs.

In fact, long-simmering and recently escalating differences kept interrupting the efforts at maintaining a tenor of agreeableness.  As board members and others arrived for the meeting, 150-200 teachers marched in front of City Hall to protest Williams’ “turnaround” plan for six PLA—persistently low achievement—schools.  This plan, announced several weeks ago, would transfer 250 teachers from these schools after all 500 in their faculties underwent interviews and evaluations.  The Buffalo Teachers Federation has adamantly opposed this, and said it’s a violation of its contract, as well as being grossly unfair, disruptive, and counterproductive.

Wednesday, Williams introduced a new set of plans to turnaround these schools, one which he said might halve the number of teachers forcibly transferred.  In fact, it seemed to borrow at least moderately from ideas put forward by federation president Philip Rumore over the last two months, but he told Williams and the board Wednesday evening that the union would not agree to this revision either. “We will not compromise” [on forced teacher transfers],” Rumore told them.

Actually, Williams’ revisions were unveiled, in somewhat sketchy terms, at a regularly scheduled 4pm “Student Achievement” meeting, prior to the 5:30pm convening of the board, although its members were present.  The primary thrust of this new plan is to reduce from six to three the schools subject to replacement of half of their faculty.  The remaining three would become part of an EPO—educational partnership organization—program, one of four models New York State and the federal government allow under various circumstances.  They would be partnered with outside education-related organizations, groups that would accept some of school administrations’ responsibilities and authority.

In an interview after Williams’ brief presentation, board member John Licata—who greeted the superintendent’s proposal with some favor—said D’Youville College, for example, could advise a school principal about faculty and instructional programs and if the school and the district rejected these ideas, the board would have to inform the state of its reasons.  Acceptance by the state of the district’s plans for school change would produce $2 million per school for three years the district could spend on implementing the approved changes.  (The three schools where at least one-half the faculty could be removed are: Waterfront School, Lafayette High School, and East High School. The four schools Williams proposes to link with EPOs are Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Futures Academy, Dr. Charles Drew Science Magnet, and Bilingual Center School.)

In interviews Wednesday and Thursday, Rumore called much of the Williams plan “Crazy —-. It’s teacher musical chairs,” he complained.  “If a principal [in the three affected schools] wants to keep more than half the teachers, it can’t be done!”  This reform program will create educational and personal headaches among principals, teachers, students and parents, he says, without improving anything.  And he lays a large part of the blame on US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and what Rumore regards as his arbitrary and semi-draconian program for improving schools.

The union’s objections are much more than an inconvenience or a political complication.  Rumore must sign off on any application to New York State for the federally-provided monies, and he says he has no intention to do so.  With this roadblock looming before the May 9 deadline, there was a curious lack of ideas expressed on how it could be surmounted.  No one but Rumore even addressed the problem at Wednesday’s meeting, and two board members, who didn’t wish to be identified, said they had no ideas to share on this subject.  One union official suggested Williams might be prepared for his plan to fail, in which event the superintendent’s expectation is that the state won’t clamp down on the district, but would permit another application later in the year.

Rumore says that for almost two months, he has been asking the district to consider a broad-based EPO model, without wholesale faculty transfers, but has never received a real response to several messages.  (A parent initiated petition given the board, with over 400 signatures, asked it to delay approving the transfer plan.)

“I see a crisis,” Williams told audience members.  “We need help from you.”

Business First Illustrates Pay Disparity

classroomBusiness First has released its findings on Erie County school district salaries. Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent James Williams tops the list at a base salary of $220,000. According to the See Through New York Web site, that figure was $227,427

Members of Williams’s cabinet don’t do too badly, either. Chief Academic Officer Folasade Oladele makes $159,399. Chief Financial Officer Gary Crosby makes about the same amount. Lead Community Superintendent Mark Frazier makes $129,075. Former principal, now Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes makes $127,335.

Williamsville school superintendent Howard Smith was second to Williams in terms of pay at $206,500. Business First rates Williamsville the number one school district in WNY, and they point out that Williamsville also pays its teachers the most money based on “median pay.” Buffalo ranks #28 by this standard.

But if  you factor in starting salaries for teachers, Williamsville slips to second place, while Buffalo is at a dismal 70th. Peak salaries for Buffalo Teachers are ranked near the very bottom, at 71st.

Could there be some kind of connection?

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?

Eight Days a Week

The Buffalo Ruse is always leading the discussion. This week: ChillDay, the compromise between Phil Rumore of the Buffalo Teachers Federation and Buffalo Schools Superintendent James Williams on the start of the next school year.

Paint the Town

Late last night, at the tail end of one of the few weeks in the past year in which we did not publish anything snarky about anybody, someone threw two gallons of paint on our front doors. Seems a waste; we hadn’t even earned it. Nonetheless, we were cleaning up all morning.

Last week, sure, I can see that: maybe Chris Collins, maybe Steve Pigeon. But no…those guys wouldn’t stoop so low. They don’t even return our calls. It must have been someone else.

Buck Quigley had what sounded on his end like a civil conversation with Bob Gioia earlier in the week, so I can’t believe it was him. And I can’t imagine his brother, Anthony Gioia—recently confirmed as a representative to the 63rd session of the UN—would be so undiplomatic. James Williams? No, Dr. Williams loves AV. He told me so last year. And I can’t believe anything would have changed his mind since then.

Revenge, like pizza, is best served cold, but we understand that the folks at La Nova have made peace with their neighbors. So that’s not it.

George Sax is too urbane to have caused us trouble with the Public Bridge Authority or the Erie County Democrats. And though Bruce Jackson frequently draws heat down on the paper, it doesn’t seem like the Seneca Gaming Corporation‘s style. Our other Bruce, late of county government and now thinking deep thoughts about public policy at Buffalo State, is generally brisk but not offensive…unless Bob Wilmers has been nursing a grudge against Fisher and occasional AV contributor John McMahon for months.

What the hell. It couldn’t have been former Buffalo News editor Murray Light.

I’m sure the vandal didn’t issue from City Hall, the good offices of which are AV’s most frequent target, because anyone who works for the city would know that there’s one of those new surveillance cameras just up the street. The blue-light specials.

When I called B District to ask if the camera might have caught the guilty party in the act, I was told that a detective would call back later today. Then, maybe, we’ll see.

School Board has Cake, Eats it too!

The Buffalo school board held a special meeting at 3:30 this afternoon, called by board member Catherine Nugent Panepinto to “vote on pursuing disciplinary action against the individuals named in the report of attorney David Edmunds and/or as discussed by attorney Karl Kristoff.”

After the Pledge of Allegiance, board President Kapsiak began the meeting by moving to enter into executive section, which was immediately seconded by Catherine Collins, who said that she, for one, intended to mention people’s names—therefore making an executive session mandatory. Within five minutes of typical chaos, the press was again sent into the antechamber that has become their second home since issues involving Crystal Barton and McKinley High School have become public knowledge. Nugent Panepinto never even got to read her motion.

After half an hour, the door opened and BPS lawyer Karl Kristoff read a motion to share all the raw data collected by the $25,000 Edmunds report with school board members—something they’ve never had access to thus far—before deciding if any disciplinary action might be warranted.

Here’s how the vote went down: Four in favor (Nugent Panepinto, Hernandez, Petrucci, Jacobs). Perry-Cahill said she would like to “sustain.” Her colleagues corrected her use of terminology and asked if she would like to “abstain.” She said yes, she would like to do that, and she was joined in her abstention by Collins. Kapsiak and Johnson voted against seeing any more evidence.

Vivian Evans, although present in another room, would not take part in the vote.

Thus, with only four votes in favor of examining all the evidence generated by the $25,000 of taxpayer funds that were used to compensate Edmunds, the motion did not receive the five votes it would have needed to pass. Chief of Staff James M. Kane quickly observed: “It doesn’t pass!” He had the tone of a dealer at a poker tournament, interpreting all the hands for the spectators.

Next, it was time for the board to vote on new officers. Vivian Evans entered to take part in this vote.

Again, the room stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Kapsiak retained her position as board president, Collins replaced Hernandez as VP of Executive Affairs, Jacobs replaced Nugent Panepinto as VP of Student Affairs.

In a stunning and unpredictable coincidence, each vote was identical, with Perry-Cahill, Collins, Johnson, Kapsiak, Jacobs, and Evans voting for the winners—while Nugent Panepinto, Petrucci, and Hernandez voted for the losers.

Kapsiak, Collins, and Jacobs were sworn in to their new positions and the meeting was called to a close.

Florence Johnson was the first to move in on the cake. She and Perry-Cahill moved in for a slice after sharing hugs with Collins, Jacobs, and Kapsiak.

And even though it was a big cake, Nugent Panepinto, Petrucci, and Hernandez didn’t have any.

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