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Buffalo School Board majority draws fire for trying limit public participation at meetings

Members of the Buffalo School Board majority came under fire Wednesday for pushing a resolution encouraging the superintendent to recommend changes that could limit the ability of parents, teachers and community members to speak at board meetings.

“I’m speechless,” said parent and teacher Marsha Phillips, a member of the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization. “Do you think that we enjoy coming here after working all day? Yet we come time and time again because we feel we have an insight that’s valuable to you.”

The resolution, submitted by board majority member Larry Quinn and co-sponsored by board members Patricia A. Pierce, Jason M. McCarthy and Carl P. Paladino, asks Superintendent Kriner Cash to recommend changes to how board meetings are run. Current board practice allows up to 30 public speakers to address the board during regular meetings for up to 3 minutes each. This typically delays the board’s review of regular agenda items by about an hour.

The part of the resolution that outraged some public speakers stated, “The public speaking portion of our meetings, which includes many of the same speakers week after week, consumed almost 40 percent of our meeting time last year; and … Board of Education meetings should be reserved for conducting the actual business of the board.”

In response, a half-dozen speakers at the meeting in Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts sharply criticized the resolution, asking why the board was promoting “censorship.”

Resident Keith Jones said the board should examine why people are repeatedly coming to the meetings and saying the same things.

“The reason parents might be coming here saying the same thing is because you all keep doing the same thing,” Jones said. “The same thing is sabotaging our kids, ignoring people when they talk, cutting staff in buildings with overcrowded classrooms, but when a parent comes here to say something about it, then the hell with you all.”

He and other regular speakers made it clear that they come to the board because they feel they have no other viable outlet to be heard and to have their concerns addressed. Some of them also confronted board members before and after the meeting to complain about the resolution.

District Parent Coordinating Council President Samuel L. Radford III said board members should want to hear from the public, even if they don’t like the message.

“Part of getting better is hearing stuff you don’t like,” he said, pointing out that concerns are often muffled at the school building level.

Board minority bloc members Barbara A. Seals Nevergold and Sharon M. Belton-Cottman criticized the resolution and said that, at the very least, the resolution should be rewritten so that it doesn’t imply that public comment is a waste of board time.

McCarthy quickly recommended that the resolution be referred to his Executive Affairs Committee meeting for further discussion and changes next Wednesday. His recommendation was unanimously approved.

Both he and Quinn said they are not trying to eliminate the public speaking portion of board meetings, but simply trying to find a way to structure them more efficiently.

“Nowhere does it say eliminate anything,” Quinn said, adding, “We do need better governance. We do face very serious challenges this year.”

For a summary of Wednesday’s board meeting, review live coverage on the School Zone blog at email: