By Jason A. Zwara
At Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting, newly elected Park District representative Carl Paladino ran through the items and motions in his lengthy open memo. Some items were quickly brushed aside, many were questions directed to the superintendent or her staff for a later answer or sent directly to committees, a few were openly discussed in detail before being sent to committee and one reached a vote and passed.
Some will see the move as nothing more than a stunt, as some Board members likely did as they began to openly question the agenda as the clock neared 10 p.m. While Paladino’s 34-item agenda may have been over the top, the process the newly elected board member used to bring issues to the table was well within the prerogative of any board member and one that should be used by other members going forward, though perhaps on a smaller scale.
Paladino’s approach was what one would hope to see from any board member raising an issue. The memo supporting each issue and motion was provided well in advance to board members and the superintendent.
This gave every person involved an adequate opportunity to examine the issues and come to the meeting prepared to discuss the agenda. As a result, discussions on the items were informed, civil and led each item to a firm concluding action: a vote, a referral to a committee or a retraction of the issue or motion.
As the night dragged on, some board members struck out against the lengthy agenda. Sharon Belton-Cottman told Paladino that many of his questions could have been directed to and answered by staff in private, while Florence Johnson decried the domination of the agenda by one person. Paladino’s approach, however, put these questions out on the table publicly. As a result, the responses from the administration or the discussion by the board will also be conducted publicly.
Had Paladino simply requested responses privately, the remainder of the board and, more importantly, the public would remain in the dark.
Using this approach is the first step toward improving board and district transparency. Though Paladino’s agenda may have been over the top in terms of its length and breadth, the public should hope that all board members embrace a similar approach to raising issues of concern for the board. If so, the board may quickly see a vast improvement in its operation.
The board on display Wednesday was far from the dysfunctional body all too commonly seen in the past. Instead, it was a group of nine representatives engaged in informed discussions and taking specific actions on the many pressing issues facing our district.
Jason A. Zwara is research and policy adviser for Buffalo ReformED.