The Buffalo School District is well-known for the ways it keeps information from the public, but the manner in which important business is brought to School Board meetings at the last minute and without public notice is completely unacceptable.
As News staff reporter Sandra Tan noted in the School Zone blog, a special meeting called for 4 p.m. the other day originally listed two agenda items: One referenced the Cross and Joftus consulting firm and another simply “other items” from the superintendent.
Those “other items” from Superintendent Pamela C. Brown were hugely significant, having to do with the closing and relaunching of three schools – Bennett High School, Harvey Austin School and Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute. Brown did say at an earlier committee meeting that she would bring up recommendations regarding three schools at the next committee meeting, but major proposals like this deserve a thorough airing.
Brown also verbally recommended that Middle Early College be moved to Math Science Technology Prep. Although it was unanimously approved by the board, the move came as a total surprise to the public.
That’s a big deal when it comes to changes in Middle Early College. Remember the 2008 recommendation that the program be phased out? That idea generated a fire storm. This time Brown headed off any criticism by devising the plan in secret.
The lengths to which the district has gone to keep the public in the dark is troubling. The district is answerable to the taxpaying public and should never try to manage the news by refusing to release information in a timely manner.
Board members must submit resolutions for consideration 48 hours in advance of a meeting. Jim Kane, chief of operational services for the district, justifies the superintendent’s secrecy by saying that she is exempt from the rules board members must follow.
The superintendent may attach resolutions to the agenda at any time, he said, as long as she considers it a “late item.” But there are no standards for what is considered a “late item.” It’s a bad policy that needs fixing.
New board member Carl Paladino beats the drum on the topic of transparency at every meeting. And new board member James Sampson put forth a resolution on the matter. Yet, the problem persists.
Board member information packets posted on the district website are often incomplete. As an earlier blog by Tan indicated, a recent agenda summary listed 15 resolutions, when there were 18.
The insular mind-set that exists within the district often backfires. As an example, the superintendent’s failure to involve stakeholders in planning for the three schools has caused upset from leaders of both the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the District Parent Coordinating Council. They say that Brown and her administration did not consult teachers and parents before telling the board that she wants to close the three schools and relaunch them with different academic programs or new management.
The teachers probably never would have gone along with the proposal, but soliciting input from parents and the general public might very well have created momentum for the project.
Instead, the district dismisses the public’s stake in education in a way that is nothing short of insulting. This behavior cannot continue.