Thursday, July 23, 2015

WTF, Buffalo?

It's not every failed candidate for governor who winds up on a school board. Carl Paladino, whose supporters like to call him the next mayor of Buffalo, is just one of nine on the dysfunctional Buffalo School Board, but he for sure gets the most press. With Trump-like sensitivity, he likes to refer to the African-American women on the board as "the sisterhood," and he's been vocal in wanting to hold off on handling the Justice Department's complaint about racial bias in the district when it comes to choosing students for elite "criteria" schools. He's also quite happy to blame the unions for the disgraceful state of the schools. He is even subject of a civil rights complaint all his own.

Buffalo may be the most messed-up district in the whole state, and a lot of that seems to be political. They're on their fourth interim superintendent. Their last real superintendent was forced out after two years. The last interim superintendent quit in disgust. Twenty-five of the district's schools are now in receivership. The new Commissioner, who once lived in the neighborhood, has told Buffalo to shape up or expect a takeover.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a former official is indicted for absconding with Title I funds (for a no-show job for her son, which seems to be a NYS motif). Forty percent of Buffalo students are chronically absent. FORTY PERCENT! Seventy percent of the city's schools are segregated, a complete reversal of progress that was made in the 1970s and 1980s.

Is there any solution? Well, Carl Paladino is of course in favor of charter schools, largely because, as the Alliance for Quality Education has pointed out, he benefits financially from every single one that goes up in the Buffalo region.

Instead of recusing himself, Paladino actually is the most vocal proponent of charter schools on behalf of the majority of the school board. He recently led the way when the majority members of the school board passed a resolution in support of immediate conversion of four public schools into privately-run charter schools and even offered an amendment that would set the stage to potentially convert all of Buffalo public schools into privately run charter schools.

I can't imagine any qualified person taking a job as superintendent in Buffalo. Some have gotten partway through the process and thrown up their hands. Former deputy commissioner Ken Slentz got cold feet in June. Sito Narcisse, a leading candidate with an outstanding record in Boston and Prince Georges County, just bowed out yesterday. This Buffalo News report gives a pretty nice picture of the typical board meeting. Who wants to put up with that?

For a while, Jean-Claude Brizard was considered a front runner. He ran Rochester schools and then Chicago schools, neither for long, and he's a big charter school guy. Before that, the frontrunner was the Associate Superintendent for Student Support Services, and after that, it seemed to be the Associate Superintendent for Human Resources, Darren Brown, who is now the interim.

But honestly, all bets are off. The politics are just so deranged, as the county clerk (a former board member and relative-by-marriage of Paladino's) calls for moving school board elections to November, something I would think was a great idea if it weren't coming from this guy.

I tend to appreciate people who run for school board. It can be a thankless job, and most applicants really care about kids. But I think Buffalo's school board would be doing their city a favor if they all stepped down and let the people of the city start over. For the sake of their children, who aren't attending school, aren't graduating, and, one posits, really aren't learning, they should give up their paid positions (Buffalo school board members get $5000 annually—a pittance compared to Rochester's $20-$30K, but much more than us unpaid heathens in the hinterland) and let someone else try. Every year they remain is another year lost to a generation of children.

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