Here’s what Barbara Seals Nevergold and the rest of the Buffalo School Board majority managed to do on Wednesday, and it was a significant accomplishment: They made Carl Paladino look like a moderate. And they showed themselves to be unserious about the problems facing the district and its afflicted students.
Paladino and fellow freshman board member James Sampson were denied the opportunity to bring several resolutions before the board, even though Paladino earlier had been promised he could. Sampson’s rejected resolution – you can’t make this up – was on improving board transparency. Such is the caliber of leadership on the Buffalo School Board.
Later, the board relented, referring Sampson’s resolution to the Finance and Operations Committee, while handling Paladino’s offerings in a variety of ways. But the point was made: This School Board will consider changing its dysfunctional ways only under duress.
It gets worse. Even though Paladino and Sampson had been promised at the last regular board meeting that their resolutions would be taken up at Tuesday’s meeting, Nevergold, the board’s president, produced a wrench to jam up the works. She found a previously unused, unheard of and unlikely rule requiring that a two-thirds majority of the board had to agree for any resolutions to be considered.
Never mind that such a rule has not been mentioned in any meeting in memory. Until Wednesday, any board member could raise a resolution after the regular agenda was concluded. That was a mistake, Nevergold said, claiming that board “didn’t operate properly before” (and isn’t that the truth?) but that henceforth, the board would comply with its own rules.
Yet, nothing The Buffalo News could find in board rules suggests that a two-thirds supermajority vote is needed for board members to add resolutions to the agenda. What is more, after a private consultation with Paladino, Nevergold relented and allowed the resolutions to be raised. So, either she violated the newly discovered rules again, or the rules never existed to begin with.
This isn’t a School Board, it’s a comedy club. And the unfunny joke is on the students.
This shouldn’t have been so difficult. Yes, Paladino ran for School Board in order to shake up an arthritic bureaucracy, and yes, that makes him a threat to those who favor the pathetic status quo. But he’s a board member. So is Sampson. They won their seats in a fair election and they have constituents whom any decent board is bound to respect. What is more, the rules apply to everyone, and they don’t magically change at the pleasure of the board president.
A board that plays these kinds of games is one that is focused on something other than its mission, which in this board’s case is the education of 34,000 students and, more specifically, turning around a district that is failing most of those students. Worse, the gamesmanship is coming from the top, with the board president maneuvering to prevent discussion of serious issues, including the ability of residents to attend meetings, neighborhood schools, retiree health insurance costs, tenure policy and more.
The board majority may not recognize it – indeed, nothing in its history suggests that it would – but it violated the public’s trust with Wednesday’s failed gambit. If it can’t do better, then it deserves whatever penalty Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo might think of proposing.