Wednesday night’s Buffalo school board meeting ran for six hours and finally adjourned because everyone was just too tired to continue at close to 11:30 p.m.
Even maverick board member Carl P. Paladino said he’d had enough and made a motion to adjourn the meeting as long as his motions were taken up by the board at its next regular meeting in two weeks.
At the very start of the meeting, Superintendent Pamela C. Brown shared broad details of her much-anticipated strategic plan to turn around the Buffalo Public Schools, but very few concrete details were shared with the public.
Several board members raised questions about the plan – a thick, dense document that took eight months to prepare in conjunction with Say Yes Buffalo and numerous other stakeholders. The plan was delivered to board members over the weekend but was completely omitted from the board agenda packet released to the media and other members of the public.
Paladino complained he never got a copy, and board member James M. Sampson criticized the plan for not including outcome-related performance measures that would enable the district to determine whether the plan is achieving its goals.
The bones of the strategic plan cover six areas: district leadership; school leadership and practices; curriculum development; teacher practices and decisions; student social and emotional health; and family and community engagement.
Under each of these are five more specific goals. These goals are each accompanied by a detailed chart listing even more detailed goals and activities, according to a five-page sample document.
“There’s very little in here about performance outcomes,” Sampson said.
Brown responded that all the expected outcomes have not yet been decided.
Members of the District Parent Coordinating Council asked that the board delay its vote on the strategic plan because the parent community was promised five public forums to learn more about the details and offer their input.
Those forums will take place at four schools from Sept. 19 to Oct. 22.
Earlier this week, The Buffalo News had requested an opportunity to sit down with Brown and review her strategic plan, but no such session was scheduled.
It appeared the strategic plan was approved by the board as part of the consent agenda late Wednesday, though Paladino, Sampson and board member Theresa Harris-Tigg raised questions about it beforehand.
The board was also expected to discuss the status of the turnaround plans for East and Lafayette high schools, which must be completed and resubmitted to the state by Friday, but it seems board members were too worn out to raise the topic at the end of the meeting.
Brown had been expected to meet with state education administrators today to work with them on a final, acceptable plan for both high schools, but she delayed the meeting until Friday so that she could meet with President Obama today instead.
Aside from the strategic plan, Brown also provided the board with a report on her reorganizational plan, which resulted in the hiring and promotion of numerous high-level administrators, the demotion of a few administrators, and the reallocation of many lower-level staff. No employees were released by the district as part of the reorganization.
The chief financial officer/chief operating officer, chief of talent management (former human resources director), three chiefs of school leadership and the deputy chief financial officer were given raises because of their expanded job responsibilities, Brown said.
Some staff were counted as savings for the district because their salaries were removed from the operating budget and shifted to the grant-funded budget.
Other staff were removed from the central administration and reallocated to various schools to fill vacancies.
“The total cost savings from the reorganization is expected to exceed $1 million,” Brown said.
The district apparently provided all board members a chart indicating how the district is saving $1 million through this process. However, this information was not included in the board packet released to the media and other members of the public.
“The reality is, you could blow holes through this left, right and center,” Paladino said, holding up the one-page reorganizational savings chart.
The News had previously asked the superintendent for a copy of the complete savings breakdown but did not receive one Wednesday.
Paladino grilled Brown about why the district still hadn’t provided him a copy of the district’s new reorganizational flow chart, which he said he has been requesting for 45 days, as well as her authority to hire so many employees without explicit board approval.
Brown responded, “I certainly believe, as superintendent of the district, that I have the authority to screen and hire candidates for positions. I was authorized by the former board to move ahead with the reorganizational plan, and that’s what I’ve done.”
She also said, as she has stated in the past, that Paladino is entitled to a copy of the full reorganizational chart, but she did not explain why no one has yet given him a copy.
After meeting for 3½ hours, during which time no decisions were made, the board moved into executive session around 9 p.m., requiring the public to leave board chambers and wait in the hall.
Many members of the public waited for the board to reconvene, but after about an hour, most people gave up and went home.
That closed session, convened to discuss union contract issues, an employee discipline issue and employee tenure matters, continued for nearly 2½ hours.
When the board returned to session, board members cast split votes on a number of personnel items that resulted in a number of elementary principals being granted tenure, against the recommendation of the district.
The board was still supposed to discuss resolutions put forth by Paladino and Sampson, but both board members agreed their issues could wait until the next meeting.