Carl P. Paladino’s latest missive may land him in even deeper trouble.
But it also offers a behind-the-curtain look at the Buffalo School District’s players and politics – particularly the resolution of the Buffalo Teachers Federation contract.
In an article published in Artvoice, Paladino writes that the teachers contract was resolved in a one-on-one meeting between union president Philip Rumore and Superintendent Kriner Cash.
“We learned later that in the last negotiating session, Rumore invited Kriner, without staff, to another room where Kriner caved on everything, giving Rumore $35 million instead of the $10 million authorized, extending the term and dropping all of our demands for return of management prerogatives and the end of retirement health care for new hires,” Paladino writes. “He gave them the farm, the farm animals and equipment and the future hopes for the farm.”
Paladino also reveals details from an executive session to discuss negotiations when he says Cash told the board he was worried the teachers would go on strike and asked the board to authorize him to offer more money to prevent that.
It’s those comments about what was said during the executive session that now have some critics saying could be the basis for his removal from office.
“I pleaded with Kriner to disregard the illegal strike talk and stop panicking over it because even if they illegally went on strike, no one would care.” Paladino writes. “We would just put a bunch of baby-sitters in the schools and Phil would go to jail for a few days. How sick is it to sit in an executive session, ostensibly held to keep the discussion private, but knowing full well that within minutes Rumore, our adversary, would know from treacherous Board members everything discussed in the meeting.”
Rumore confirmed that is exactly how the contract dispute was resolved, but he said it is a common way to wrap up negotiations.
“Most contracts are settled like that,” Rumore said. “That’s what negotiations are all about. We are the decision makers.”
He also added that Paladino is raising the issue as a distraction to the controversy about the disparaging comments he made about President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in an earlier Artvoice article.
District officials responded to the criticism by pointing to the things the district gained during negotiations – including 25 extra minutes in the school day and a contribution from teachers to their health care. They also noted that many of the management rights Paladino and other board members – including the right to replace staff - wanted the district already has at some schools under the state receivership law.
The district's general counsel, Nate Kuzma, also acknowledged that at times Rumore and Cash did meet one on one to hash out issues.
"In negotiations like this, it certainly would not be an uncommon thing for the person serving as chief executive officer of the district to go back and to talk one on one with the head of the other party," Kuzma said. "There were instances where Dr. Cash and Phil did meet one on one to hash out details on things where there were sticking points."
"The district wanted to get it done," Kuzma added. "This was a contract that the district had not settled since 1999. We settled a contract that was fair and competitive and had concessions on both sides."
Paladino’s article is just the latest twist in a saga that started two weeks ago when Artvoice published an end of the year survey in which the developer said he wanted to see President Obama dead and the first lady return to Zimbabwe and live with a gorilla. The remarks garnered international attention and fueled calls for his removal from the Buffalo School Board.
The following week, his colleagues on the board voted to call on Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to remove him, arguing that his remarks violated the state’s Dignity for All Students Act and hinder the board’s ability to conduct official business. The Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization and Buffalo Teachers Federation also plan to petition the commissioner to remove him.
Facing this pressure, Paladino went on the offense, publishing the lengthy Artvoice piece about his time on the board.
Much of the article – entitled “How Union President Rumore Co-opted the Buffalo School Board and Rigged the Teacher’s Contract” - reflects criticism Paladino previously raised about district operations, including how much money it spends per student and what he says is the practice of patronage hires.
He takes aim at all of his foes, including developer Lou Ciminelli, saying his involvement in a massive school reconstruction project is under investigation by the FBI. The article suggests that Ciminelli was involved in last year’s school board elections and the effort to oust members aligned with Paladino, who has been leading the push to get the company to reveal how much it profited from the $1.3 billion Joint Schools Construction Project.
“We will continue pursuing Ciminelli for an accounting of the missing $450 million and the FBI will continue its criminal investigation, despite (School Board President Barbara) Nevergold’s attempts at cover up,” Paladino writes.
Another source last year told The News that the FBI has been looking at the Ciminelli contract, but it is not known if they still are
“LPCiminelli is hopeful the new board majority will respect and accept the decision of the court and put an end to this unnecessary and wasteful litigation, which has cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees,” said Benjamin Zuffranieri, the lead attorney representing Ciminelli in the civil lawsuit.
In the Artvoice article, Paladino also takes responsibility for the hiring of Donald Ogilvie as interim superintendent, while criticizing his colleagues on the board for accepting his recommendation.
“Unfortunately, our sometimes Board of Education majority, with the insular and indecisive Jim Sampson as president, finally fired the incompetent superintendent, Pamela Brown, but then made a huge mistake– my mistake — and theirs for listening to me: They picked the treacherous interim successor, Donald Ogilvie, who was recommended to me as a strong local who knew where all the bodies were buried and would clean up the mess,” Paladino writes. “He turned out to be a nightmarish wimp, all for the status quo.”
But Paladino’s revelations about the board’s executive session could add fuel to the fire of those trying to remove him. Both state law and district policy prohibit elected officials from disclosing information discussed in executive sessions, and there has been at least one previous attempt to remove a member of the Buffalo School Board on those grounds.
“We will certainly be including his latest comments in Artvoice in our petition,” said Larry Scott, co-chairman of the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization.
Rumore also said he believes revealing information discussed in executive session could be grounds for Paladino’s removal.
Several board members tried to use that argument in seeking the removal of Jason M. McCarthy from office in 2014. The commissioner, however, has not yet issued a ruling in that case.