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Prodding from Paladino and Sampson improves some School Board practices

One is known as a bomb thrower. The other is known to be more measured. But these two newcomers have turned up the heat on a desperately dysfunctional Buffalo School Board.

It was because of developer and new board member Carl Paladino and his constant questioning of the district’s reorganization plan that legal research was done on the superintendent’s hiring process. Turns out, the superintendent was filling jobs that were not clearly funded in the line-item budget approved by the School Board, which put the new hires at risk.

Also, before a superintendent can hire high-level, non-union administrators, there must be an official ruling or an agreement with the unions that these positions are excluded from union jurisdiction. It may come as no surprise that, for the most part, that requirement has been ignored.

The mish-mash method of hiring top lieutenants has been used by previous superintendents. But it took Paladino to bring the problem to light.

Transparency has been one of those concepts the district and, quite frankly, some board members have had a hard time embracing. James Sampson, fellow board newcomer, has been particularly outspoken on this issue.

Last month Sampson, who is also chairman of the county’s fiscal control board, wanted to present a resolution on improving board transparency. The board initially demonstrated once again its resistance to transparency by denying him the opportunity to bring up the matter.

Sampson’s resolution was meant to address the multiple complaints about how the board and district share information with the public.

It would have required the board to hold its meetings in easily accessible locations, post all agenda materials on the district website and live-stream and live-blog all board meetings.

For a School Board that spends a good deal of time in executive session and out of public view, this was unheard of. And, at first, it seemed undoable.

Finally, after prodding from Sampson, the board voted to move the second regular board meeting each month and one set of committee meetings each month into public schools, live-stream meetings and post meeting agendas and related non-confidential information in advance on the district’s website.

Persistence, coupled with a fresh look at old problems, has paid off for the school district and residents of Buffalo.