The Buffalo School Board is now in the spotlight, with today's start of an unprecedented hearing to have Carl P. Paladino removed from his seat garnering interest across the state and nation.
It is what some call a first of its kind hearing during which the state's top educator will hear arguments from both sides in a court-style proceeding. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia will then rule on whether Paladino can keep his elected position as the Park District representative.
School Board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, Superintendent Kriner Cash and General Counsel Nathaniel J. Kuzma are among those expected to testify as the hearing starts today. It will resume Friday with testimony from other board members seeking Paladino's removal and from Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore.
But school leaders aren't the only ones making their way to Albany. Several Buffalo parent and advocacy groups that have been leading the push for Paladino's removal are also going to observe or to have their voices heard.
"Many parents and students are intensely interested in the outcome of this hearing," said Rachel Dominguez, secretary for the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization and a member of Standing Up for Racial Justice. "We are all tired of the distractions caused by Paladino's rash, impulsive actions. We have important work to do in our schools."
The BPTO was among several groups that filed petitions seeking the board member's removal for an article published last December in Artvoice in which Paladino wished death on President Barack Obama and said his wife should live in Africa with a gorilla.
"Mr. Paladino has not taken any responsibility for his behavior and has only persisted with more hateful actions, intimidation and misinformation," said Larry Scott, BPTO co-chairman. "It is evident that Mr. Paladino is either unaware of or dismissive of his hateful views and actions and their effects on the very children whom he proclaims to be helping."
Paladino's comments about the Obamas and others, however, will not be the main focus of this week's hearing. Rather, Elia will consider whether Paladino violated board policy by revealing information that was discussed in an executive session.
"I can understand people protesting his comments about the Obamas, but that isn't the issue up for consideration," said At-Large Board Member Larry Quinn. "Carl is on the docket for telling his constituents how the district ended up with a terrible teacher contract which will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars the next 10 years and do almost nothing to reform education. He should probably be praised for that, not censured."
Along with those from Buffalo, it's likely Albany-based state education groups also will attend.
The New York State School Boards Association is making itself available to offer information and answer questions about the process. The Alliance for Quality Education is also considering having a presence at the event.
Some area activists, however, say the crowd will be much thinner than if Elia had agreed to move the hearing to Buffalo, as both Paladino and some advocates had requested.
"We had a bunch of folks interested in going, but so few got seats they could not justify time away from work and family," said Whitney Crispell, who has organized several protests with Standing up for Racial Justice. The hearing room has only 15 to 20 seats, which were granted through a lottery. The proceedings also will be shown on a live feed in a side room.
The first two days of the hearing also overlap with the last day of school in many New York districts.
Still, those who have been vocal in the push to have Paladino removed made sure to be heard before board members headed to Albany.
About a dozen protestors showed up at Tuesday's School Board meeting to implore Elia to use her authority to remove Paladino from his position. Even more showed their support from the audience, wearing T-shirts that said "#cancarl" and cheering those speaking.
"His advocacy for racism blocks the success of the school community," said parent Robin LeGrand, referring to Paladino as a "highly privileged white man."
"As a member of the Buffalo Board of Education, our controversial board member is responsible for my child's education," said parent Rachel Ablow. "What he teaches is not acceptable."
Some of those on the board seeking Paladino's removal showed their own support for the speakers' position before they headed to Albany.
During the portion of the meeting for board member reports, Ferry District Member Sharon Belton-Cottman said she was looking forward to attending this week's hearing – and awaiting an outcome.
"It's not going to be easy," she said of removing Paladino. "But somebody's got to do it."