Tag Archives: Buffalo Public Schools

Paladino’s Financial Stake in Charters

22 Oct

I’m skeptical of charter schools because I believe that they’re being used as an effort to abolish public education in the United States. The only exception is that instance where they’re used in a limited way to save kids from failing public schools.  Since Buffalo has its share of failing schools, I’m not going to begrudge parents finding a way to get their kids a decent education by any means necessary. You only get one chance, after all. 

The Buffalo News details the ways in which Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino has profited from the establishment of charters in Buffaloin fact, he’s the sole investor in some of them. It would be easy (and tempting) to dismiss all of this as Paladino personally profiting (which he does) off of charter schools, and demanding his resignation or recusal from anything having to do with charter schools in the Buffalo system. 

But the real issue isn’t whether Paladino is profiting off of charter schools – past, present, and future – the issue is that this situation is novel enough that the school board needs to clarify its conflict of interest rules. It’s not enough to just let Paladino subjectively pick and choose when there is or isn’t a conflict of interest, there need to be objective and uniformly applicable rules, and clearly defined instructions. It should not be left up to Paladino – a thuggish character who yells obscenities at strangers on the street, like a vagrant

“…I’m totally insane.” – Carl Paladino

As toxic, hateful, and repulsive as I find Paladino as a person and a political entity, I am conflicted about what he’s doing on the school board. I agree with his conclusion about its dysfunction and desperate need for improvement and accountability, and I think some of what he’s done has been positive, bold, and overdue. But the school board needs to be the one forcing Paladino to recuse himself – not only from any vote involving any of the charters in which he currently has a financial stake, but also those in which he has a potential financial stake. He needs to avoid not just actual impropriety, but the appearance of impropriety. 

That means that, while Ellicott Development may be a closely-held private company that isn’t mandated to release financial information, it should live up to Paladino’s political demands that others be transparent and make available all personal and corporate financial information as it relates to public charter schools. Paladino would demand no less of anyone else, if the shoe was on the other foot. Showing this information to a few reporters from the Buffalo News is not transparency – that’s Paladino taking advantage of the public trust. 

In the meantime, he’s controlling a majority on that board, and he’s effectively dictating the school board’s agenda and actions. He’s got his wish with respect to the removal of Pamela Brown. So, he’s all out of excuses, and it would be idiotic to hope he fails. I hope he succeeds and that the Buffalo school system becomes a nationwide model for turning around a troubled urban district. Transparency, ethics, and accountability: shouldn’t Paladino be held to the standards he selectively demands of others? 

I guess we’ll see how that hopey – changey thing works out for everyone. 

Out of Excuses

7 May

Well, Carl Paladino is the big winner in last night’s Buffalo School Board election. The two candidates he was backing won, and Barbara Nevergold was re-elected. I tend largely to stay out of Buffalo School issues because (a) I’m not invested in the district in any meaningful way; and (b) my own kids’ school district has its own problems relating to tea party politics, so I concentrate on that.

So, with a newfound, slim anti-Pamela Brown majority on the board, Carl Paladino is all out of excuses. By this time next year, one would expect there to be some measurable, positive changes to the district. They’ll fire Brown, bring in someone else, and own whatever happens.

The question is: what’s going to happen? When WBEN’s morning program interviewed Paladino the other day, he made much of “neighborhood schools”, the evils of busing, and expanding charters. Forty years after the federal court imposed busing on Buffalo, the city and schools remain as segregated as ever. Given Paladino’s clumsy and intolerant relationships with people who don’t resemble him, it’ll be interesting to see how his ideas shake out.

I suspect that one of Paladino’s big ideas will be de facto privatization of the public schools. When you examine his motivation for all of this – he says it’s because he cares, but this seems like an incomplete rationale, at best – it could have to do with the resulting demand that charter and new voucher-supported private schools will have for real estate.

In Clarence, we’ve got a school board candidate running who is billing himself to his friends at the Chapel at Crosspoint as the “Christian values” candidate. Richard Worling was feted Saturday morning by the local tea party anti-tax group and their mobile home park owner-benefactor. His kids go to a Christian academy in Amherst, so although he’s financially invested in the schools, he has no investment in the schools’ life, academics, faculty, or administration. The problem is that, if he’s elected, then the board will have three members who were backed by the anti-tax forces, and God help the district. These are the same people who concern-trolled the ELA curriculum just a few short weeks ago.

So, nowhere is immune from right-wing meddling and experimentation with public education. In Buffalo, failure is linked directly to poverty. In Clarence, success is under attack in the name of God and taxes.

We live in a society now where pulling money from schools is in vogue because public education is under assault from the right. It’s why congressional Republicans want to voucherize Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, privatize Social Security, and otherwise roll back the social safety net. I don’t know why people are buying into that, but it threatens to reduce the country to second-world status, if we aren’t there already. We’ll spend wildly on defense, but we reject investment in the next generation of Americans.

The time has come for Paladino to exchange divisive outraged demagoguery for leadership.

It’s a brave new world out there.

In the News

27 Apr
Blue Sky Optimism

Blue Sky Optimism by ardvorak79

A few things worth reading in the Buffalo News:

Colin Dabkowski has quickly become a must-read every Sunday. His columns are direct, pithy, and insightful. This week, he weighs in on the city’s revival of its public arts program.

Although I’m not a huge fan of nostalgia, I think that Bruce Andriatch’s look back at his time at a defunct Olean-area restaurant and hotel is poignant and interesting.

The News’ endorsements for the upcoming school board election are notable for being exclusively Caucasian in a predominately African-American district. It would seem that there will be a lot of whitesplaining going on over the next year. But understand that when Paladino’s agenda is unsuccessful, he’s going to have to own that and he won’t have any “sisterhood” to blame anymore.

Buffalo’s own news historian guru, Steve Cichon, has begun curating the “BN Chronicles”, highlighting interesting stories from the News’ archives. Nestled between stories detailing America’s intervention in the Mexican Revolution, there’s this 1969 story about moving the Williamsville toll back past the Transit exit (never happened, we’re still arguing about it), a Buffalo Bill selling cars during the off-season, a story about fledgling gay rights in 1984, and a 1969 piece about “high speed rail”.

Sacred Heart Academy refused to print an alumna’s same-sex marriage announcement in its alumni periodical. The woman in charge of the magazine expressed that she was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“I’m very sorry that we can’t publish your pictures and your good news in the Cordecho,” Sister Edith Wyss wrote. “We had a similar request several years ago and we did publish that announcement of the marriage of an alum to her partner. We did expect some negative response and we got some.

“However some readers of the Cordecho also contacted the Diocese of Buffalo. The bishop sent a diocesan official to meet with us at SHA to make sure that we understood what we had done,” Wyss wrote. “In their view, we were publicly supporting same-sex marriage. In our view, we were supporting our alumnae.”

The bottom line, according to Wyss, was that the Cordecho – published three times a year in winter, spring and fall – could not again print news or photos related to same-sex marriage.

One person posted a comment on my Facebook wall, indicating that Nardin has no problem announcing alums’ same-sex marriages, so all of this is a bit odd. But then, read what Buffalo’s bishop has to say:

“I am grateful that the leadership of Sacred Heart Academy has done the right thing and has not compromised its Catholic mission and values. While Sacred Heart is not a diocesan school, it is a Catholic school within the diocese, and I have responsibility for Catholic identity there and in every Catholic school, diocesan or not.”

Yet Pope Francis famously said, “[i]f someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” While not a full-throated endorsement of same-sex marriage, it’s certainly more loving and tolerant than what Buffalo’s bishop has to say. 

Sacred Heart Academy reportedly has no problem cashing homosexual students’ and alumnae’s checks.

Success Story: South Buffalo Education Center

9 Dec

Looking for a reason to believe in Buffalo?  Look no further than the South Buffalo Education Center (SBEC).

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Created in 2002 by County Legislator (now New York State Assemblyman) Mark Schroeder, the SBEC provides General Equivalency Diploma (GED) preparation to out-of-school youth and underemployed or jobless adults.

The SBEC utilizes a Holistic Education curriculum that focuses on the personal as well as academic achievements of out-of-school youth and fosters a sense of responsibility to self and community by creating an “intellectual family” for students who have felt disenfranchised from traditional education.

Dropouts often leave school with significant problems which only grow the longer they are away from school.   Often times, the student just needs someone to provide the emotional support to start the program. “The students just need someone to help them find the way,” says Stacey Watson, Executive Director of SBEC, “Once they get on track, they run with it.  They’re hungry for success and we’ve designed a curriculum which serves the holistic emotional needs of the student, not just the basics.”

Since its inception in 2002, SBEC has graduated 683 students from what has proven to be the most successful GED program in New York State. For several years, they have lead the state in GED accreditation rates with 73% of the students being placed into college. SBEC also offers computer classes and vocational training – all at no cost to the student.

SBEC students are provided with a multitude of programs designed to fit the individual needs of at-risk populations. In addition to New York State Certified Adult Education Instructors in both computers and GED Preparation, the clients are also supported on-site by a New York State Certified Teacher and Career Advisor, a Department of Social Services Site Supervisor, an Erie Community College Mentor and a SBEC Graduate Mentor.

Pre-collegiate courses are offered on-site by Erie Community College to provide preparation for college entrance exams. Personalized employment services include career planning, resume and professionalism workshops as well as job search assistance. Students participate in various seminars including nutrition training, volunteering basics and financial management and through our additional human service partners are connected to mental health and primary health care providers.

The organization receives the overwhelming majority of its funding from private sources, but their doors are always open to any student who walks in the door.

“Stacey Watson is a leader and a visionary. She has created an open and welcoming environment that provides a safety net for people in need. Buffalo is lucky to have her working on their behalf,” said Assemblyman Schroeder. “This program is one of the things I am most proud of, we’re truly giving people a chance at a better life”

South Buffalo Education Center
2234 Seneca Street
Buffalo, New York 14213
(716) 826-1785 Phone
(716) 826-0138 Fax

Tax & Spend Referenda

19 May

Although school budgets tend to go up every year, and this year they are under particular strain, it’s interesting to note that people seem to support lower taxes and lower spending in their abstract, but when it comes time to make specific cuts, they balk.

Hm.

Obama’s Brainwashing Revealed!

8 Sep

I have a brood of four kids, and two of them are school aged: fifth and first grade. Here is how our dinner conversation went tonight:

Mom: Did you guys watch the President at school today?

Kids: Yes, we did.

Me: What did he say?

First Grader: He said his dad left him when he was little then he moved to Indonesia.

Fifth Grader: Then he said he didn’t have a lot of money for good schools, so his mother tutored him on Friday’s, and he would fall asleep at the kitchen table, and then his mother would yell at him and say “This isn’t my idea of a picnic either.”

Both: (much giggling)

Me: Did the President say why that was important?

Fifth Grader: I don’t know. Can we have ice cream after dinner?

_____________________________________________________________

This proves:

a) Obama is an egotist

b) This whole blow up was much ado about nothing

c) Most kids don’t pay a lot of attention to the things we think they are going to, and they miss the fine points of policy brainwashing

d) All of the above

I think we all know the answer.

Enlightenment in Lew-Port

7 Jun

The Lew-Port School Board President thinks racist, misogynist emails are hilarious. Like most people over 50, he takes glee in forwarding them to a lengthy list of email recipients. Problem is, many of them don’t think “negro” jokes and black-people-hate-to-work jokes are all that “funny”.

When interviewed by the Buffalo News, Robert Weller defended a right to free speech that no one said he didn’t have, and suggested that those offended “lighten up”.

“The president of the School Board is no more holy than a minister, and a minister probably sends a lot more stuff than I do,” Weller said. “These are just jokes. If somebody wanted to take offense, they had the opportunity to shut if off, just like a radio.”

Mr. Weller misses the point in its entirety.

It would seem to me that Robert Weller is a deeply disturbed person who not only has a deep, unrepentant hatred for black people and women, but also is completely oblivious to just how offensive and improper the forwarding of these emails is. It doesn’t matter what email account he sent them to, or the fact that he has a fundamental right as an American to hate blacks and women. What matters is that he is entrusted with helping the education of children, and is frankly undeserving of any position of authority in education.

Buffalo School Board Elections

6 May

I have stayed way the hell out of this, since I don’t have a direct stake in the outcome. I have an indirect stake, in that it is important for the whole region that kids living in its urban epicenter obtain a quality education. I haven’t commented on the fact that various political and lobbying organizations have backed certain candidates, and stayed out of the whole thing pretty much completely.

The votes are in, and it looks like a big blow was dealt to the incumbent slate – only Chris Jacobs won re-election. Catherine Collins and Florence Johnson, both of whom have been on the school board for many years, and are strong supporters of Superintendent James Williams, appear to have been ousted.

Newcomers John Licata and Bryon McIntyre have been elected to the board. This does not bode particularly well for James Williams, any initiatives he might propose, or even for his continued tenure.

Because kids only get one chance in life to get a good education, and because the City of Buffalo has largely been failing them in that task, it will be a very interesting place to keep an eye on when the newbies are seated.

I hav

Public Meetings I Missed and Went To Monday

24 Mar

Did you know there was a county legislature-created commission to examine how county government might further reform itself? One of the items being considered is whether the legislature might be reduced from 15 to 9 members.

I was unable to attend because I was busy attending a budget workshop at the Clarence Board of Education asking them not to cut one of the most respected and beloved programs in the school system – a program that enhances the learning for every student in the school district. The savings to the budget would be $200,000 – a pittance in the large scheme of things, but you only get one chance to educate your kid. It’s counterproductive madness to futz with a curriculum that has been produced excellence in a cost-effective way. People move to that district because it’s so well respected. If they drop this important component of the school curriculum, the district will see its results adversely affected, and it will see enrollment drop.

So, I had to skip the 21st Century Commission’s public hearing, but Paul Wolf attended, and he eloquently spoke in favor of an idea that I’ve advocated for from time to time – a wholesale abolition of county government.

County government is a relic from the past that does not make sense in the 21st Century.

My understanding is that 88% of the Erie County budget is mandated by the state. We simply do not need 15 legislators, a County Executive and their staff to make decisions on the other 12 % of the budget.

When you look at the agenda for a County legislature meeting what you see is a large number of resolutions honoring and thanking individuals. While such resolutions are nice in my opinion they take up a significant amount of staff time and are simply not an appropriate use of legislative time. In 2008, 349 of these congratulatory resolutions were introduced compared to 5 local laws.

In addition to resolutions honoring individuals, what you will see on the County legislature’s agenda are what I call symbolic resolutions. Resolutions where the Legislature calls upon the federal government or state government to take action on an item that they have no power or say over. I don’t believe such actions are essential and nor would they be missed.

My request is that this Commission look beyond debating incremental changes such as reducing the size of the legislature, the length of terms and term limits. Reducing the size of the Legislature or changing the length of terms will not result in bold and meaningful change that makes a difference to our community.

The services provided by County government could easily be transferred to and absorbed by the state, Cities, towns and villages. County government was successfully eliminated in Connecticut in the 1960’s, and eliminated in Massachusetts in the 1990’s. The state of Rhode Island does not have county government. A movement of local citizens is growing in West Chester County, New York to eliminate County government.

The pointlessness of county government? Consider for a moment the fact that we revised the county charter a couple of years ago, and it was accomplished by a 70% “yes” vote via referendum. The charter mandates performance based budgeting be implemented. It’s an innovative way for a governmental entity to provide services in as cost-effective a way as possible. The last two county budgets have not been performance based, and therefore have arguably been illegal. With its implementation, that 88% Wolf talks about above – the part that’s mandated by Albany – could be reduced, as well. After all, it’s not the expenditure that Albany mandates without funding, it’s the service provided.

Kevin Gaughan is right that we have too many taxing governmental entities, but we have to decide whether we abolish small governments and roll them into a unified regional metropolitan entity, or whether we abolish county government and roll its functions into the state or local municipalities.

Or we can dither about, cajoling towns to drop a board member or two, and have Chris Collins asking all and sundry to put up their dukes. Either way.

Clarence Schools & Cuts

17 Mar

I’m sure you’ll forgive me this, but I’m going to use my bully pulpit, however small, to discuss cuts being proposed and discussed in the Clarence School system, because it affects me personally and twice.

There have been rumors lately that budget cuts will force teachers to be let go, and more critically, an end to the “Clarence Enrichment Program” which not only runs the morning program at our daughter’s school, but is also the nouveau term for the, I guess, exclusionary “gifted and talented”.

This article appeared on the Clarence Schools website:

The Clarence Board of Education will preview proposed cost-saving measures contained in next year’s preliminary budget at a public forum on Monday, March 23 at 7 p.m. in the Clarence High School auditorium.

Grim economic conditions have forced the board to make some tough but necessary decisions. Facing a likely $2 million cut in state aid, the school board sought to develop a budget that keeps expenditure and tax levy increases under 2 percent. To achieve that goal, the board considered several cost-saving measures.

The board finalized those plans during a budget workshop this past Saturday. Among the proposed cuts is a two percent reduction in staffing including 10 full time teaching and 6 full time support positions. It is anticipated the cuts could be achieved through attrition and retirements.

The budget draft also includes a 20 percent cost reduction for supplies, materials, equipment and conferences, modification to the elementary and middle school summer programs, and the elimination of the elementary enrichment program.

Monday’s meeting will include an overview of the anticipated cuts and time for comment and questions from the public.

The Board of Education is set to adopt the proposed 2009-10 school budget at a 7 p.m. school board meeting on Monday, March 30 at Clarence Middle School. A public vote on the budget is scheduled for May 19, 2009.

With New York State poised to receive over $2 billion in direct education funding through the stimulus bill, the fact that my school taxes routinely go up, and the importance of the schools to the people in this community, I’ll be writing about this from time to time. The test, for me, is governmental. Ok, so my county legislator is Ray Walter, my assemblywoman is Jane Corwin, my state senator is Mike Ranzenhofer, and my congressman is Chris Lee. Republicans all. I will be contacting all of them and asking them why this funding, of all things, is being removed, and report on their responsiveness. If they believe that good schools are a hallmark of life in Western New York, and important for the future of not only individual kids, but the region itself, then I’m sure these elected officials will be super-responsive.

Because I don’t mind paying taxes if I’m getting a good product back. Clarence’s schools provide an excellent service, and I still pay loads of taxes to the state, to the county, and to the district itself. If cuts are to be had, they should be spread out across the district’s service offerings. Killing CEP wholesale hurts the kids, but will also hurt the system’s reputation over time.