Half the battle for an alcoholic is understanding that he has a problem. Until then, there is no hope of improvement. Thus, it is possible for Buffalo residents to take some comfort in the recognition by the School Board’s majority that its first year ranks as a failure. The question now is what is the majority willing to do differently?
Some of the board’s difficulties, among the members of the majority and minority blocs, stem from the intractable nature of the problems the district faces. But it’s more than that, and it’s why the analogy to an alcoholic, while imperfect, holds more than a grain of truth.
Too often, the board is the source of avoidable problems brought on by its approach to issues and the friction among combustible personalities. Given its status, the majority has the greater responsibility to change the things it can to make success more likely.
First and foremost, that will require members of the majority to be less routinely confrontational. Not every issue requires massive retaliation. Yet, some of the incendiary comments, mainly from Board member Carl Paladino, echo the Vietnam War statement about destroying the village in order to save it.
The prospects of such a change may be remote, because this is who Paladino is. His instinct is to crush anyone who differs from him. Perhaps that works in the development business that made him a wealthy man, but the business of politics requires a more nuanced approach, and politics, like it or not, is the name of the game. Chronically insulting individuals or whole groups of people – as Paladino recently did in his comments about Asians – hurts the speaker, his cause and the organization he represents.
We don’t know that Paladino’s temperament factors into the district’s inability to hire a new superintendent, but it certainly could and, for sure, it doesn’t help. Paladino needs to temper his nature if the district is to have greater success in the coming year, after which majority control of the board will be up for grabs.
It’s not just Paladino, of course. The majority decided, en masse, to anoint a Buffalo school principal as the next superintendent, with predictable consequences. Controversy erupted and the principal, James G. Weimer Jr. of the Emerson School of Hospitality, wisely thought better of the idea. Now, with the resignation of former Interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie, the district has been forced to appoint yet another temporary leader, Darren J. Brown, who was the district’s associate superintendent for human resources.
The board’s minority bloc has its own issues, which seem to derive largely from its demotion at the hands of voters a year ago. Before then, its members were in the majority and they made their own mess of the district. They are too eager to rise to Paladino’s bait.
The good news – and it is good – is that members of both factions acknowledge fighting about the wrong things, and both have left their fingerprints on the scene. But admitting the problem is only the first step. Fixing it will require a change in approach, a willingness to work toward common goals and a commitment to treat others, on the board and elsewhere, with at least some degree of respect.
The problems are difficult, to be sure. The district is in one of the country’s poorest cities and it serves a large percentage of students who don’t speak English. The best board possible would be challenged to improve education here.
But it shouldn’t be so difficult to avoid making problems worse. That’s where this board needs to start, and while that work belongs to everyone on the board, it begins with those who hold the power.