School district muffs the chance to prove commitment to transparency - The Buffalo News

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School district muffs the chance to prove commitment to transparency

Wednesday’s Buffalo School Board meeting in which Superintendent Pamela C. Brown presented broad details of her strategic turnaround plan lasted six hours and managed to accomplish very little. The meeting was an exercise in how to present a lot of material with layers and layers of detail while, in the end, signifying nothing. There was one positive – the public was allowed plenty of time to speak at the start of the meeting. After that, it was all downhill.

The dense strategic plan took eight months to prepare in conjunction with Say Yes Buffalo and numerous other stakeholders. As reported, the plan was delivered over the weekend to board members, but apparently not all. And it was completely omitted from the board agenda packet released to the public and the media.

Where is the transparency that the district boasts about? New board member Carl P. Paladino said he never got a copy of the plan. Another new member, James M. Sampson, complained that the plan had no outcome-related performance measures that would enable the district to determine whether the plan is achieving its goals.

That point alone is astounding, given the voluminous nature of the document. It covers 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 specific goals accompanied by a detailed chart listing even more detailed goals and activities.

Obviously much effort went into creating such a complex document. But a plan with no way to measure success is just a bureaucrat’s dream. Brown’s response? That’s coming.

Incredibly, nearly 5 ½ hours after the board meeting started, no vote had taken place on the strategic plan, and there was still the issue of an update on turnaround plans for East and Lafayette high schools that must be submitted to the state today.

Also hanging is the central office reorganizational plan, which is supposed to result in $1 million in savings. So far, what has been discussed seems little more than a changing of the deck chairs and calling it savings by moving salaries from the budget to areas funded by grants.

The district continues its practice of withholding vital information from the public and doing its best to discourage scrutiny of School Board meetings. During Wednesday’s meeting, the board went into a lengthy executive session, pushing the public out into the hallway. Most of the audience left before the board returned.

When business finally resumed in public, the strategic plan was approved as part of the consent agenda with Paladino, Sampson and another new board member, Theresa Harris-Tigg, raising questions beforehand. Even Paladino was worn down as the meeting approached the six-hour mark, and he moved to adjourn. Board members were too tired to discuss the status of the turnaround plans for East and Lafayette high schools.

The superintendent’s report was an exercise in how to make the uncomplicated, complicated. The marathon board meeting was just governance by exhaustion.

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