What did Pamela Brown do to deserve Carl Paladino?
Whatever it was, Buffalo’s superintendent should thank her lucky stars for the new School Board member.
If Einstein was right that everything is relative, the school chief could come off looking relatively good compared to Paladino. (Who would have guessed you could use “Einstein” and “Paladino” in the same sentence?)
Paladino’s agenda-cramming 32 “issue items” and 22 motions – including one to oust the superintendent – were prepared before he even attended his first regular board meeting Wednesday night. That signals an antipathy and closed-mindedness that could well generate sympathy for Brown from citizens turned off by Paladino’s unwillingness to give her a chance or to consider that what he learns now as an insider might shed new light on her performance.
But there’s also another way Paladino could end up helping the superintendent: by forcing her to be more transparent with the public.
Brown has not done herself any favors with missteps such as the aborted side deal with the teachers union to undermine teacher evaluations, quick policy reversals after public outcries, and a bunker mentality with a media that should be her link to the public.
Much of Paladino’s agenda – such as making the board privy to all communications between the district and state education officials, or ending what he calls board “mini-meetings” that are deliberately short of a quorum – is aimed at increasing transparency.
That transparency can’t help but force the district to get its act together and – if the board was right in hiring Brown – improve her standing as the public sees clear evidence of the competence he says she doesn’t have.
Other parts of his agenda – such as extending the school day and year – could lift achievement, with credit also redounding to the person at the top.
That’s not, of course, what Paladino intends. And his history of forwarding racist emails and injecting race into his analysis of a prior superintendent make it easy to think he’s subjecting Brown to standards never applied to the white interim superintendent she replaced. In fact, the Buffalo NAACP has dissected one of his missives and is “appalled” at the “major misstatements” that it attributes to someone “hoping that if he tells a lie loud enough and long enough, someone might begin to believe him.”
But despite his motivation, the obstreperous Paladino can be a godsend. (Sorry, God. We’re not blaming you.) Wittingly or not, he can help the superintendent by forcing her to stop hiding her light under a bushel.
The School Board must have seen something in Brown when it hired her a year ago, and again last month when most members gave her a good one-year evaluation. But whatever Brown has shown board members in private, she needs to show the public. Leadership is not just about being competent; it’s also about projecting that image and letting the public know what you’re doing.
Like an athlete who forces his competitors to lift their games, Paladino will badger, threaten and embarrass Brown and the board into a transparency that can reveal whether the district is, indeed, lifting its game.
Then, and only then, will the public be able to see if the skills the board saw in Brown are really there. She should embrace this opportunity, even if she’d rather throttle the man delivering it.