The wrongheaded decision by the Buffalo School District and the Board of Education to withhold public information should be immediately reversed. While they’re at it, they should offer an apology to the parents and taxpayers they serve for their clear violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Law.
The News has filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court to extract information from an investigator’s findings following the firing of a school administrator who oversaw the district’s $100 million grants budget.
In a decision that can only be described as outright arrogance, the school district has refused to release a lengthy report about an assistant superintendent, Debbie Buckley, who was fired shortly after the School Board received the report. The board’s claim that the information is protected by attorney-client privilege is specious. It has no merit. Moreover, much if not all of this report should be made available to the public simply on the grounds of transparency and disclosure to taxpaying citizens.
Rather than spending taxpayers’ money to defend an indefensible decision, the School Board should release the entire report or submit it for a review to determine which portions may be legally withheld, as The News has requested.
It never ceases to amaze when an elected government body or those being paid by taxpayers choose to flout the rules in an effort to keep the public in the dark. This is a high-profile misstep.
Several sources reportedly told The News that the focus was on concerns about lease payments the district made for space owned by Buckley and a family member. But getting clear answers from the district has been impossible because of school officials bent on hiding what they know from the public.
Buckley was escorted out of her fourth-floor City Hall office on Sept. 1, 2011. Six weeks after she was suspended, the board hired the law firm of Bond Schoeneck & King to investigate Buckley’s actions while she was overseeing the grants department.
District officials then made only one copy of a report submitted by the law firm around June and strictly limited its availability to City Hall. To their discredit, board members went along with this demand. Forget that they were the ones who commissioned the report. Instead of expressing outrage at this treatment, they went along and later cast an 8-to-1 vote to fire Buckley. Mary Ruth Kapsiak, representing the Central District, was the lone “no” vote.
The whole episode resembles more of what one would expect within the bureaucracies of an autocracy, not the Buffalo Public Schools. The public should demand what it deserves: a full and complete explanation with all of the supporting documentation made available.