By Matthew Ricchiazzi:
In a widely distributed statement released by Carl Paladino via email and social media, the school board member announced that he will introduce a resolution at the district’s next board meeting to dissolve the Board of Education and formally ask the State to appoint a Special Master charged with reorganizing district schools:
“The children, parents and community beg for inspired, committed and experienced leadership focused not on the preservation of the district but rather on the education of the children. It is Incumbent on the community at large, the Western New York State legislative delegation and The State Education Department (SED) to disassemble the BPS and start over with a system designed to educate.
“I will move at the next meeting that the BOE resign and request that SED appoint a special master to reorganize the BPS. ”
The statement included a wide ranging assessment of the district’s shockingly dire fiscal situation: a $31 million operating deficit in the current fiscal year (a budget approved by the previously elected board) and $35 million next year. But the fiscal reality could be much worse because, as Paladino outlines, there have been a series of management debacles over the past year.
On top of the projected $35 million operating deficit in next year’s budget, the district has not been compliant with the State’s education wellness laws, requiring the district to offer a physical education program that will cost an estimated $2 million annually — which has not been budgeted for despite the claim that the administration had been “planning” for nearly a year. Another $8 million will be needed for a watered down version of a much anticipated afterschool program. The total operating deficit is projected at $45 million.
Paladino claims that the Superintendent has made no preparations for the roll out of the afterschool program advocated by Say Yes to Education and intended to be introduced next year. Say Yes to Education had intended to use funds from cost savings elsewhere, he says, but those costs never materialized after the board began undoing efforts to streamline administrative staff.
“The Hallmark of the “Say Yes” program was the After School Program designed to bring BPS students up to standard to prepare for college. The agreement was memorialized in a Memorandum of Understanding executed by BOE President Ruth Kapsiak and Superintendent Pamela Brown. The cost to BPS for the first school year starting July, 2013 was $14 million which was repeatedly promised to Say Yes by the Superintendent and the BOE leadership.
“Working in good faith that the funding would be available, Say Yes proceeded to design the After School Program with community and parental group partners and even paid for forensic audits of BPS finances to point out areas where savings could be recognized to pay for the After School Program. The audits were presented to the Superintendent and the BOE in 2012 but then apparently summarily disregarded. When it became time to implement the After School Program, Say Yes found that the Superintendent and BOE had budgeted nothing, nil, in this year’s budget. Yamilette Williams, an unemployed and clueless appointee brought in by Mary Guinn, was assigned to implement the unfunded program but spent months dodging phone calls and being unresponsive.
“The initial Cross and Joftus re-organization plan called for a $5.7 million budget savings by eliminating many unnecessary positions in the bloated, centralized administrative bureaucracy. After presentation of the plan, the savings was lost due to interference by unions and individual board members who wanted to preserve jobs for their friends and family clubs. The final re-organization plan resulted in extra costs estimated at well over $3 million, a $8.7 million swing.”
The reorganization and restaffing efforts led by Mary Guinn, the Cross & Joftus consultant who was hired at the behest of Say Yes to Education, was racially motivated and deeply detrimental to managing administrators, Paladino argues. He claims that Mary Guinn was hiring her “friends and family club,” appointing previously unemployed individuals with lackluster performance elsewhere to oversee career principals. He faults the entire management strategy:
“The plan also further centralized supervisory staff and instead of replacing incompetent principals with qualified achievers who earned the positions based on merit, they kept the unfit and now spend millions on consultants for on the job training on how to be a principal.
“Where is their common sense? Hire qualified people, empower them and then hold them accountable for the performance of their schools.”
The restaffing efforts have had a stinging effect on morale among administrators — creating tensions among senior staff, the central office bureaucracy, and among the principals — that undermines the Superintendent’s ability to manage them.
Paladino cites Florence Johnson’s comment at a recent board meeting: “Only African Americans should be able to manage a district that serves primarily African American children.” Johnson is an at-large member who has served on the Board for over 30 years. If the school board still exists in May, Johnson will be up for reelection, along with at-large members Barbara Seals Nevergold and John Licata.
In his reliably no-holds-barred style, he identified the district’s source of dysfunction, as he sees it:
“BPS dysfunction is caused by (1) a lack of enforced standards, (2) centralization, (3) the election or appointment of less-than-qualified members to the BOE and (4) the appointment of the Superintendent, administrators, principals and assistant principals based on race rather than merit. A glaring example is the illogical appointment of Chiefs of School Leadership, the supervisors for principals. The Superintendent disregarded merit and appointed unqualified people who fit a racial profile. Most had previously failed as principals and therefore command no respect from the people they supervise, creating systemic chaos.
“The result is a severe decay of morale, the costly hiring of consultants to teach staff how to do their jobs with no identifiable way of judging outcomes, a lack of accountability, no acceptance of responsibility and a lack of incentive for achievement.”
James Sampson, a board member who chairs Buffalo ReformED and is a retired CEO of Gateway-Longview, is one name that has been prominently floated as a possible Special Master to restructure the district. Sampson has been supported by progressive groups like Democratic Action, and is thought to generally share the views of Andrew Cuomo on education reform.
Today, 45 of 57 of Buffalo’s district schools are deemed failing, with 28 named priority schools that underperform to the extent that remedial action is mandated by state law. Last year the district had a 46% graduation rate. Only 20% of black males graduated. Nine and eleven percent of students passed state tests in English and Math.
You can read Paladino’s full statement on his Facebook page.