Some members of the Buffalo Board of Education sat around the meeting table Wednesday evening trading dirty looks and terse words between relatively mundane presentations on school gardens and the Say Yes scholarship program.
As usual, some board members took notes and asked questions while others milled in and out of the hallway checking their phones. Some cracked corny jokes, while others quietly simmered, pouted and stared at their opposition. This was, of course, after the board kicked off its evening with a two-hour executive session behind closed doors.
Some of them are promising big changes for the Buffalo schools, but if Wednesday’s meeting – the first after this week’s hotly contested election – is any indication, those changes will be on hold for two more months until the new members take office.
And, if some board members have their way, so will any significant decisions.
“We shouldn’t be making any substantive decisions until July,” said board member James M. Sampson.
Yet this is a divided board, and those who currently make up the majority disagree with Sampson’s assessment.
“It’s ridiculous to say this current board should not continue to follow through on its responsibility,” said board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, an appointee to the board who won election to a five-year term Tuesday. “I think it would be inappropriate, and I think it would be detrimental to the system.”
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown echoed that sentiment at a morning news conference, saying she intends to maintain her focus on students.
With Tuesday’s election, which upset the current majority on the board, sitting members must now contend with how to bide their time until new members are installed July 1.
Those who will remain are also faced with how – and whether – to overcome differences they have with other members of the board, which has been deeply divided along racial and gender lines.
Meanwhile, critical decisions – including plans to turn around several low-performing schools and the proposed transfer of hundreds of students – hang in limbo.
What happens in the next two months could foreshadow how the board will work together after new members are sworn in. Voters chose newcomers Larry Quinn and Patti Bowers Pierce to fill two of the three seats up in this year’s race. They returned Nevergold to the seat she has held since her appointment in 2012.
Several board members who are part of the new majority say the board must put off making any critical decisions until the new members are sworn in.
They are worried that the current majority will attempt to push through last-minute resolutions before they lose control, prompting board member Carl P. Paladino to file a lawsuit seeking to strip Nevergold of her voting power.
Paladino filed a similar complaint with the state Department of Education, arguing that Nevergold violated state law because she did not run for her spot in last year’s election, the first after she was appointed to the job.
The District Parent Coordinating Council on Wednesday asked the district to put off plans for several schools and go back to the table and work with parents to develop new ones.
Board members in the new majority, however, say the next two months will not be wasted. They will be spending that time coming up with a transition plan for what seems like Brown’s inevitable dismissal after two years as superintendent.
Those board members say that they have already been working to identify current administrators who could serve as an interim administration while the board conducts a thorough search for Brown’s replacement.
“The objective of the next two months for what will be the new board majority will be to prepare an action plan,” Paladino said.
That tension – and the stark differences of opinion that divide the board – was evident at Wednesday’s meeting, which started with a two-hour executive session to discuss legal matters, including a lawsuit filed by two former administrators who were dismissed because they did not have the proper state credentials.
It was not long before the usual jabs started when the meeting was opened to the public.
“Two fools together,” departing board member Florence D. Johnson remarked about Paladino and board member Jason M. McCarthy, shortly before complaining that Sampson had left for the evening.
McCarthy later traded jabs with Johnson and board member Sharon M. Belton-Cottman about the length of a presentation for Lafayette High School, delaying the start of the next presentation.
“It’s mind-numbing,” he said of the presentation that ran close to an hour. “You don’t think it’s excessive?”
“Whatever it takes so we can be accountable to the state,” Belton-Cottman replied.
Committee Chairwoman Theresa A. Harris-Tigg called for order when Paladino started asking questions about violence in the city schools, pointing to last weekend’s killing of a Buffalo seventh-grader by a fellow 13-year-old as evidence that the district’s anti-violence programs are not working.
Several other board members argued the incident was not a topic for their meeting because the incident did not happen at a school.
“We’ve got a real problem if 13-year-olds are killing other children in the community,” Paladino said.
“We’re not going to fix it here,” Belton-Cottman said.
News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org