Tag Archives: buffalo schools

Dabkowski Goes to the Theater

22 Aug

On Wednesday night, #Buffalo struck Twitter gold: 

Board of Education Did Not Violate the Open Meetings Law

12 Jul

State Supreme Court Justice Donna Siwek heard argument yesterday on Carl Paladino’s Article 78 action to render the School Board’s retention of Dr. Pamela Brown as Superintendent. Judge Siwek rendered her decision later in the day, and it’s shown below. 

The tl;dr: Paladino alleged that the School Board violated the letter and spirit of the state’s Open Meetings Law by retiring into a closed executive session to discuss whom they would hire, and contractual details. The Court ruled that the Board was entitled to go into executive session to discuss the qualifications and other personal information regarding the various applicants, although the Board broke a technical rule by failing to properly announce that they were doing so. On the second point, the Board was within its rights to go into executive session to speak in confidence with their attorney regarding contractual matters relating to the new hire. 

Paladino may have lost, but in this case he thought the Board had acted improperly, and he took it upon himself to protect citizens’ right to know. More like this, please. 

Judge Siwek order on Paladino Article 78 Action vs. Buffalo School Board

The Morning Grumpy – 2/23/2012

23 Feb

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

 As true today as it was in 1963

1. Welcome back, Jim Heaney. We missed you. If you missed my link earlier this week in the grumpy, the best investigative journalist in Buffalo is back on the prowl with his new project, InvestigativePost. His first article out of the box took a look at Gov. Cuomo’s promise of $1BN in economic development incentives in Buffalo and how we might expect to see them doled out.

The key, of course, is how the state targets its $1 billion. While the plan is a work in progress, some aspects of Cuomo’s general approach appear ambitious – at best – and beg a larger question: Is the apparent focus on big-ticket projects the best way to rebuild the region’s economy?

He began to answer the question with his own reporting and supplemented his work with links to dozens of related stories and data points that I’m still churning through. Really great stuff.

In a blog post, Heaney also explained the DNA of this collaborative, non-profit news outlet.

I’ve had a quote from Carl Bernstein taped to the front of my computer terminal for the better part of 20 years that reads, “Reporting is not stenography. It is the best obtainable version of the truth.”

I’ve never been a fan of the “he said, she said” brand of journalism practiced by many reporters and taken to its lowest form by pundits and other talking – or shall I say, “screaming” – heads on cable. That is, present two sides of the story – as though things are ever that simple – and let readers figure it out.

I always thought my job as a reporter was to figure it out – after all, I was the one with the time, training and resources – and provide readers “the best obtainable version of the truth.” This required me to do my homework, get things right and write with clarity – “telling it like it is,” in the words of Howard Cosell.

This is the mindset I will instill as I build the reporting culture at Investigative Post.

Halle-fucking-lujah!  I can barely contain my excitement about this project and what it will mean for enterprise journalism in this region.

2. Were you arrested and charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident resulting in death, and two counts of tampering with physical evidence whilst driving while intoxicated and texting? Are you also a millionaire doctor?  No problem, call Michael Clayton Joel Daniels!

Dr. James G. Corasanti’s actions were not criminally reckless and there isn’t evidence to prove second-degree manslaughter, defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels said.

Daniels is mining an astounding array of technicalities as he mounts his vigorous defense. This case will play out over the summer and if Daniels does what he is well-paid to do, a whole new playbook will be issued to criminal defense attorneys on how to keep wealthy pricks out of jail. Our resident lawyer, Alan Bedenko, will most certainly provide comprehensive coverage on this as the story develops.

3. You should follow the steps at this link and clean up your web history. With a massive change to their privacy policy, the Google is coming to assimilate you.

On March 1st, Google will implement its new, unified privacy policy, which will affect data Google has collected on you prior to March 1st as well as data it collects on you in the future. Until now, your Google Web History (your Google searches and sites visited) was cordoned off from Google’s other products. This protection was especially important because search data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more. If you want to keep Google from combining your Web History with the data they have gathered about you in their other products, such as YouTube or Google Plus, you may want to remove all items from your Web History and stop your Web History from being recorded in the future.

Here’s how you can do that.

Follow the easy, illustrated steps and retain some of your ever shrinking amount of privacy.

4. This story is perfect for talk radio. The type of information that when relayed, causes visceral anger over these entitled 1 percenters who abuse their power and privilege to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal treasury through graft, corruption, and tax evasion. We simply won’t stand for it! Wait…what?!

Not long ago, the Atlantic did a story on the cosmetic surgery rider that Buffalo teachers have.

On Monday, CNN continued to shine the national spotlight on a story that we reported extensively a year and a half ago (“Cosmetic surgery dearly costs city schools,” “Saving face(s): Cosmetic surgery costs for school employees skyrocket,” “Cosmetic surgery rider was saved once,” and more.)

The piece on Anderson Cooper’s show, “Teachers nip, tuck for free,” recaps what we already know: Buffalo teachers have the cosmetic surgery rider; teachers pay nothing for procedures; taxpayers pick up the full tab; last year, it cost about $5.9 million; the district wants the union to waive the benefit as a gesture of goodwill; the union is willing to get rid of the rider, but only through contract negotiations; the contract expired nearly eight years ago.

Stories like this are designed to get you riled up and pissed off about how those damn unions are fucking us over at every opportunity. Sandy Beach can blow an artery and Tom Bauerle can get his thong in a bunch over how these damned teachers are just stealing from you. My reaction? Meh. And I’m in the distinct minority.

Being a teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools is not an easy job. The pay isn’t that great, the working conditions can be hostile, and violent student behavior is a major concern for many teachers in some of the more dangerous city schools. The benefit was originally instituted for medically necessary plastic surgery procedures and has expanded over time to include elective procedures. Imagine a teacher in the BPS suffering injuries at school which might require plastic surgery. Why should that restorative surgery not be covered if deemed medically necessary?

Even so, union leadership is willing to give up the benefit in the next round of negotiations, but the teachers union has been operating without a new contract for nearly ten years. So, instead of demanding the BPS sit down to seriously negotiate with the union, we ask the teachers to make a “gesture of good faith” and voluntarily waive the benefit. To which I say, “Fuck that!”.  Once that’s done, a precedent is set and negotiating power is lost.

Contract negotiations should be a mediated process in which offers are exchanged and compromise is found. Want the union to give up a $6MM benefit? Well, offer them something in return to compensate them for relinquishing it. Perhaps a reduction of the benefit to cover only those procedures deemed medically necessary as a result of injury on the job and moving the saved cash into a teacher training fund, pay increases, or to cover the purchase of new classroom supplies and equipment. Transfer the savings to improve the product.

I only wish I had a union working on my behalf to secure benefits, protect job security, and demand employer accountability. We should all be so lucky. Instead, we operate in fear of losing our jobs at the whim of quarterly profits and the constant demands to increase shareholder value. And we’re thankful for the treatment and call into WBEN demanding that everyone else suffer our fate. It’s a weird country.

5. Do you remember that KeystoneXL pipeline that Republicans have a hard-on for? The pipeline that will reduce our gas prices to Reagan-era levels and bring us hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in economic development? Yeah, about that…

Unfortunately, there’s an all-too-typical problem with the Republican line on Keystone: it’s completely unsupported by the facts. On the jobs front, the Cornell Global Labor Institute estimates the project would create only 2,500 to 4,650 short-term construction jobs—not the “hundreds of thousands” of jobs claimed by House Speaker John Boehner.

Similarly, gas prices would not decrease if Keystone was built—they’d likely go up in many areas of the country.

This is nonsense on many fronts, most of all because the price is oil is fundamentally set on global markets. As the Congressional Research Service pointed out in late January, when there’s trouble in places like the Straits of Hormuz, the price of oil goes up for everyone and Keystone will make no difference, since the oil market is “globally integrated’; it’s not like Exxon offers a home-country discount to American motorists.

But in the case of the Keystone pipeline, it turns out there’s a special twist. At the moment, there’s an oversupply of tarsands crude in the Midwest, which has depressed gas prices there. If the pipeline gets built so that crude can easily be sent overseas, that excess will immediately disappear and gas prices for 15 states across the middle of the country will suddenly rise. Says who? Says the companies trying to build the thing. Transcanada Pipeline’s rationale for investors, and their testimony to Canadian officials, included precisely this point: removing the “oversupply’ and the resulting “price discount” would raise their returns by $2 to $4 billion a year.

So, are we all done with this now?

Fact Of The Day: An economist spent ten years studying street gangs and found they function much like corporations. Executives in the 1%, the street dealers making less than minimum wage and firmly in the 99%. Linked video is from a classic TED Talk.

Quote Of The Day: “They don’t think it be the way it is, but it do” – Oscar Gamble unaware that he just explained the universe in one sentence.

Video Of the Day: Every punch to the face in the classic film, Roadhouse. As someone who has watched Roadhouse over 300 times, you should know that it is more of a religion than a movie. Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.

Cartoon Of The Day: “Terrier Stricken” – Chuck Jones

Song Of The Day: “Acid In My Heart” – The Sleepy Jackson

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com

The Morning Grumpy – November 21st

21 Nov

Good morning! For those of you unfamiliar with who I am, my name is Chris Smith and I’ve been blogging about Buffalo and WNY since 2005 on WNYMedia.net. The editors and instigators at Artvoice have deemed me worthy of promotion to this fine publication and I intend to abuse their hospitality.

How about a little backstory before I get started? I moved home to Buffalo in 2005 after a tour in the military and professional stops in Boston and Chicago and several points in between. I’m a husband and father of two great kids and I can engage in long comparative discussions on the cultural impact of Bob The Builder and Dora The Explorer. I’m also a godless humanist liberal with a predilection for snarky distillations on politics, economics, and media. I studied political science, but I’m employed as a systems engineer and now as a web journalist.

I have a voracious appetite for internet memes, video, podcasts, news, and analysis. Each morning I’ll share several links that you can consume during your “morning grumpy”.

1.  A whisper campaign is a method of persuasion using rumor or innuendo to create false impressions about a political candidate while not being detected spreading them. For example, did you hear that President Obama is really Kenyan? Or that Hillary Clinton might soon sign a UN treaty which would subject Americans to international gun control laws? Grassroots whisper campaigns via email are an incredible tool in both political campaigns and in the daily ideological struggle of America. Email and social media have only made these tactics “stickier” as the message is speedily passed by “trusted sources”, whose credibility is based on the relationship between sender and receiver. Uncle Ned wouldn’t pass on false information, now would he?

Turns out that most of these whisper campaigns source from the right wing and these persistent narratives are getting more difficult to debunk as even Presidential candidates discuss them in public.

Most of the time, Democrats (or liberals) are the ones under attack.  The majority of the junk comes from the right, aimed at the left.

Nonpartisan debunkers such as FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, Emery and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker have been chasing down these tales and dousing them like three-alarm fires for years. (There’s even a chain e-mail that paints Snopes as a liberal cover-up for the White House.) It’s often difficult for these myth-busters to say with certainty where a falsehood began. But the numbers are clear.

Of the 79 chain e-mails about national politics deemed false by PolitiFact since 2007, only four were aimed at Republicans. Almost all of the rest concern Obama or other Democrats. The claims range from daffy (the White House renaming Christmas trees as “holiday trees”) to serious (the health-care law granting all illegal immigrants free care).

Snopes turned up 46 viral e-mails regarding Bush during his eight years in office. By contrast, in just four years as a candidate and as president, Obama has been the subject of 100 such chain e-mails. The difference is not just in number but in kind: Twenty of the 46 Bush e-mails checked by Snopes turned out to be true, and many of these flattered or praised him. Only 10 e-mails about Obama have been true, and almost every one of them has been negative.

Emery estimates that more than 80 percent of the political e-mails that he’s vetted over the past decade were written from a conservative point of view. “The use of forwarded e-mail to spread [false information] around is overwhelmingly a right-wing phenomenon,” he said.

Gee, all this makes one consider that this type of thing might be coordinated…

2. Last week, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post linked to a fascinating paper by six political scientists called “A Theory Of Parties“. A few key quotes from the paper (which is well worth a full read):

As we theorize, parties no longer compete to win elections by giving voters the policies voters want. Rather, as coalitions of intense policy demanders, they have their own agendas and aim to get voters to go along.

Most citizens pay little enough attention to general elections and even less to nominations. The few who vote in primaries lack the anchoring cue of candidate partisanship, rendering them open to persuasion. Media coverage of primaries is also generally less than in general elections, further increasing the expected impact of small amounts of paid communication.

To explain the substantial autonomy we believe parties enjoy, we posit an ‘electoral blind spot’ within which voters do not monitor party behavior.” Through various institutional devices, like complex party rules and procedural votes that no one understands, the major parties “seek to exploit lapses in voter attentiveness” and “keep the electoral blind spot as large as possible

The problem I find in our national politics is that as the parties work to increase that “electoral blind spot”, the media work to assist them. It ought be the goal of media professionals to explain away those electoral blind spots, but too often, they find themselves in the unenviable position of offering “He Said/She Said” platitudes in the interest of equal time and “objectivity”.  Why it is that reporters adopt the “View From Nowhere” and horse race style coverage rather than investigating and fact checking is beyond me.

3. Want to know one of the secrets to moving more families back into the City of Buffalo and reducing sprawl? Figuring out a solution to the public school/charter school registration/lottery nightmare would be an excellent start.

The vast majority of students are placed through a computerized lottery process. (Programs that have some criterion for admission, like City Honors or Olmsted, work differently. You can find info on those admissions processes on Page 3 of the pdf.)

(For those of you who are wondering: This application is only for schools in the Buffalo Public Schools with a deadline of November 28th. Charter schools have a completely separate application process. Each charter school runs its own admissions lottery. Their deadlines are generally in early April. That will be the subject of another blog post down the road.)

This process is a common sense abortion and works to drive families to suburban districts where registration is simple and neighborhood schools the norm. By the way, I like that some of the best journalism being committed by The Buffalo News is happening on the School Zone Blog by Mary Pasciak and seems to be primarily motivated by her near pathological disdain for former Buffalo Rising editor and current BPS spokeswoman Elena Cala. Grudge journalism!

4. The banality of evil in our new police state.

5. This is a topic I’ll be writing about in-depth over the next couple of weeks, the Protect IP Act or “SOPA”. To get us started, I recommend you watch this explainer video on the topic. You should care about this, really.

The Morning Grumpy

29 Jun

I have a voracious appetite for internet memes, video, podcasts, news and analysis, so each morning I’ll share several that you can read during your “morning grumpy”.

1. Elena Cala is a lot of things; assistant to Buffalo Schools Superintendent Dr. James Williams, former editor of Buffalo Rising, Former Teacher, Mom, and Chanteuse, but she certainly isn’t known for handling the media very well. On Monday, her ongoing Sicilian blood feud with Buffalo News education beat reporter Mary Pasciak came to  a head. You see, Elena and other BPS staff are still upset over an article Pasciak wrote in which she demonstrated that several members of the superintendent’s staff did not hold the qualifications posted for their jobs, including Cala. There have been dozens of other perceived slights during Cala’s dealing with Pasciak, but the outcome of this one was fun to watch.Click through to watch the video tutorial from Elena on how NOT to handle media members who buy ink by the barrel.

My personal dealings with Elena have always been pleasant, but during her short tenure as an employee of Dr. Williams and the BPS, she has earned a horrible reputation as the most difficult press person in the region. That’s saying a lot, as there are a lot of pompous former media pros working in these PR departments around town.

As Pasciak reported in April,

Cala, special assistant to the superintendent for community relations, is supposed to have “seven years full-time experience in public or community relations in a large institution or educational setting,” according to the posting for her position.

The only such experience listed on her resume is a stint as a public relations assistant at Westinghouse Communities of Naples Inc. in 1985.

Cala, who makes $80,000 a year, worked most recently as an editor at Buffalo Rising for four years. Prior to that, she taught at a Catholic elementary school for four years. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Buffalo State College, where she became close friends with Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Questions remain whether it was her connections with Brown, her personal relationship with Joy McDuffie, or her efforts as editor at Buffalo Rising to drive favorable turnout during a critical school board election which got her the job, but Cala will probably not have to worry about dealing with oppositional media much longer.

2. As the seemingly pointless war in Afghanistan drags on, two stories came across my radar screen that I thought drove home the futility of the conflict and the long term human costs.

The BBC’s Ben Anderson spends 24 hours in Afghanistan’s bloody Helmand Province and shares his experience with analysts at VBS.tv.

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The utter futility of the entire conflict is palpable. Bring them home.

Meanwhile, the children of our deployed soldiers face horrible conditions in military schools and deal with the mental strain and anguish of their Fathers and Mothers fighting on the front lines half a world away for over a decade.

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The shame.

3. This just in from The Brookings Institute. Cleveland, Detroit, Youngstown and Buffalo are among 36 of the top 100 metropolitan areas whose population below the age of 45 declined during the last decade. At the opposite end of the spectrum, college towns such as Austin, Raleigh, Provo and Madison, experienced significant growth in pre-senior population. Think the Mayor or County Executive might be interested in addressing these problems or are we doomed to another couple of years of crumb hoarding at the political poker table?

4. Jon Stewart is America’s finest media critic and satirist and in this clip he very succinctly analyzes the entire strategy of Fox News. Nailed it.

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5. Actual news headlines versus Fox News headlines.

6. Every national political reporter who has an opportunity to interview Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney needs to read this article first.

7. Should You Change Your Password?

8. Enjoy 57 minutes of excellence by The Hood Internet.

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See ya tomorrow.