Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Snowy Day the Public Took Buffalo Schools Back--by Publius

Buffalo, February 11, 2015

The Snowy Day the Public Took Our Schools Back

“Why aren’t you listening to the public?” Buffalo Board of Education member Ms. Bianca Brown asked the majority block of all white, mostly real estate developers after another raucous night of democracy.

Now that’s leadership.

Funny thing is, Ms. Brown is the non-voting student representative on the Board.

Why did she so boldly ask the Buffalo Board of Education this direct question?

She asked because she, like all Buffalonians, sees an immoral majority and moral minority split on the Buffalo Board of Education.

She asked because she witnessed Board member Larry Quinn (known for < during Board meetings) ignoring one of the very students he pretends be concerned about.

She asked because, the citizens – who had braved a cold, snowy Buffalo winter day to rally for their schools – repeatedly defended Kevin Gibson, the teacher who was thrown out of a public meeting by Quinn simply because he was a member of the Buffalo Teachers Federation’s union. Apparently the Board is not familiar with Section §10, Legislative declaration of the New York Open Meetings Law.

Ms. Brown asked because over the past several months, Mr. Quinn has referred to teachers as “clowns,” “idiots” and “pigs” rather than work collaboratively with them.

It’s clear that these pesky Buffalo citizens are messing up his, and fellow carpetbaggers Carl Paladino & James Sampson’s business plans to disassemble and profit from at the expense of children. Lest we forget these profiteers are directing millions of dollars away from some of the nation’s poorest kids.

It is also clear the public understand what the Board doesn’t want them to understand. Mike Vacanti, an Economics teacher from McKinley High School gave the audience a “pop-quiz.” When asked “What is the primary goal of a business, like charter schools?,” the unanimous reply was, “profit.” He queried further, “What is the primary goal of a public school? and was answered uproariously, “to educate!” Vacanti delivered one of the night’s better zingers. While tabulating the audience’s quiz grade, he took an inordinate amount of time to add 1 + 1. Vacanti apologized for the delay noting, “I was using Common Core Math.” He proclaimed the public, “Highly Effective.”

An unfathomable 78% of Buffalo Public Schools students live in poverty. These numbers are skewed because Buffalo’s pervasive poverty is coupled with the fact that our district is the most highly chartered in the state and those charters tend to serve the needs of Buffalo blue and white collar, middle class community. Making matters more unconscionable, New York State has the most segregated public school system in the nation.

Tapestry Charter School alone pays close to $1,000,000 annually to rent a school building owned by none other than Carl Paladino. This building was built, despite protestations from self-appointed reformy maven Amy Friedman, who lamented it was unfair to have to pay a prevailing wage to laborers while Paladino’s Ellicott Development company received close to $700,000 in tax breaks to construct his building. Lay your fears to rest; according to the Buffalo News (renowned clarion for the “schools-are-failing crowd”) there are no conflicts-of-interests according to Paladino’s lawyers because he puts the income from Charter school rents into a trust for his son… What’s that joke about waterfront land for sale in Florida?

These are the same lawyers, presumably, whose extralegal attempts to get a school principal caught up in an unfortunate imbroglio to answer questions not through the Board, but through his private real estate office. When Carl’s henchmen didn’t get the answers they wanted, Paladino sent a rambling tirade of an email that included such gems as,

            “She is obviously part of the sisterhood friends and family club,”


“You are blind to your incompetence and the dysfunction that your racist and union oriented attitudes brought to the Buffalo Public Schools. … You should resign.”

It’s ironic that Paladino accuse and African-American woman of being racist. Remember his Tea-Party bid for Governor of New York when he was caught up in the public shame of his own racist-laden emails being released.

Seriously Carl? Who should resign?

The Board majority was asked why they do not listen to the public because Paladino tonight defiantly told the public, despite the admonitions of civil rights expert, Mr. Gary Orfield of the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, that this Board would not “let grass grow” and will push forward with its plans to close our schools. For the record, Mr. Orfield did inform the Board,

“It would be advisable to avoid major changes in the use of the district’s facilities until this work [of the investigation] is done and the district and Office of Civil Rights have agreed on a plan.”

Paladino’s defiance was reminiscent of Governors Faubus and Wallace’s non-compliance with federal desegregation laws.

And on and on it went…

Ms. Brown asked this poignant question because tonight’s Public board meeting was a triumph of democracy. Board President Sampson doesn’t like it when citizens question his having voted on a lucrative contract that went to a company he was then president of. Among other things we the taxpayers funded was $64,000 to pay his fees to Buffalo’s elite supper clubs [public not welcome]. When asked, Sampson crowed out his favorite line, “You’re done” and had the citizen escorted out.

This favorite directive was brandished repeatedly tonight as speaker after speaker called out Board members directly, exceeded allotted speaking limits and continued to talk, boo and jeer the bombastic and cantankerous Sampson into irrelevance. The citizens repeatedly, loudly and democratically chanted, “Whose schools? Our Schools!” & “Who decides? We decide!”

Fully emasculated but still pouty, Sampson was powerless. Not one “rule-breaker” was escorted out. Not even a PUSH Buffalo organizer who continued to lead the “Whose Schools?” chant while face to face with the policeman who was directed to escort him out.

Recently, the Board has exploited the good men and women of the Buffalo Police to achieve the goals they cannot because they have lost the moral authority to run this district. Energized, speakers became increasingly defiant. Undaunted and clueless, Sampson foolishly repeated, “you’re done” only to be drown out by the good citizens of Buffalo as they shouted, “Let him speak! Let him speak! Let him speak!” The coup de grâce came when the citizens began proclaiming, “No Sampson, you’re done!”

The night was full of democracy. The Board was reprimanded for policies that will lead to more gentrification, accused of acting like imperialists (a quote credited to Dr. Mark Naison), greeted by the melodic voice of Principal Crystal Boling-Barton singing “I Open My Mouth to the Lord” ending poignantly with the lyric, “and I won’t turn back.”

Barton then eloquently placed the evening into a larger context, comparing the audience’s calls to accept their community developed re-design plans to the efforts of Civil Rights activists. Last week, Ms. Barton did the same as she took the moral high ground and shamed this board simply by recognizing their disdain for the public trust.

Barton was preceded by Phil Rumore, President of the Buffalo Teacher’s Union. Mr. Rumore sternly informed the Board that their leveraging technique of telling the schools their re-design plans might be considered if the Buffalo teachers acquiesced to their reformy demands, that this action would result in a likely sanction from the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). As you could guess, their demands are straight out of the Broad & Gates foundation-funded stink tanks that our shill of Governor Andrew Cuomo is similarly trying to use as he withholds state funding for districts unless they accept a hodge-podge slate of his hedge-fund buddies “reforms.”

It is nice working in a state that still has unions and labor boards. Interestingly, New York still has a strong middle class.

One of the more powerful moments of the night came from another student. Max Reiling denounced the board for their failed policies and proudly proclaimed that he and the student body of the city’s best magnet school, City Honors, stood with the students of Bennett, Lafayette, East and Martin Luther King School. Former City Honors student Johnny Sansone (aka Johnny Buffalo) put the impending closing of a school named for Dr. King into prophetic context in a hip-hop anthem entitled “Rally to Save Buffalo Public Schools.”

Did Ms. Brown get an answer to her question?

No. Quinn (aka Cell Phone) dismissively moved to another hackneyed, union-bashing item on the business agenda.

Ms. Brown, we applaud you for speaking truth-to-power. Most importantly, you turned our despair into hope. The type of hope and change we all yearn for and were once promised. We will push back this hostile takeover of our public assets. Just last month, this Board was going to give away four public buildings to four charter schools. As of today, not a single charter school is slated to go into our buildings.

By simply asking, “Why don’t you listen to the public?” you emerged as a student leader who will be joined by all the other students who spoke, protested and beat-boxed in support of our Buffalo Public Schools.

At this point, the only way this Board will listen to the public is when the good citizens of Buffalo vote this shameful band of bandits out of office and out of our public schools.

But, alas, the Board has scheduled one last public meeting when all final decisions will be made concerning the closing of public schools so that private charters may colonize those buildings. This special open public meeting is scheduled, ominously, for February, Friday the 13th. Must be coincidence that the week-long February break is the following week. That’s shady.

Stay tuned. Organize. Fight. Register to vote. Save our public schools.

Yesterday, we were enervated. Today, because of the youth, we are all energized.

Welcome home democracy, it’s good to have you back.


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