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Dissension over Cuomo’s education reforms edited out of parent group video

A brewing storm within the Buffalo Public Schools’ parent advisory group boiled over at a recent meeting when a “heated exchange” erupted over Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s education reform plan. But don’t expect to see the dust-up in video of the meeting posted on the district website, or to read about it in the meeting minutes.

The ruckus was edited out of the video, and there was no mention of the clash in the minutes emailed to all voting members of the District Parent Coordinating Council.

Now school district officials, who arrange to have the parent council meetings recorded, are looking to amend the contract to prevent such editing without district approval.

The controversy exposed a rift that has been developing within the DPCC, whose leaders have been highly critical of district operations and have often sought state intervention. It also occurred less than a year after the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization had sought more input with the district, after organizing in late 2013 to promote the good things happening in the school system.

The dispute erupted when the parent council tried to get a vote to support Cuomo’s education plan, which DPCC President Samuel L. Radford III said makes education “a priority,” but which critics say puts too much emphasis on standardized tests and is unfair to teachers.

Mine Dosluoglu, a City Honors DPCC representative, said her comments from the Feb. 3 meeting and the entire argument with Vice President Bryon McIntyre – who took over temporarily when Radford left – were deleted from both the videotape and the minutes.

“In the actual minutes, the stuff I said is not there. Fifteen minutes of a conversation is not there,” she said.

Melanie Matteson, Olmsted DPCC representative, said she didn’t even know the fiery portion of the meeting had been edited out until others informed her at a subsequent meeting of the Buffalo PTO.

“Then I went back to the website and watched it, the entire thing ... I knew the moments I spoke. I wanted to see if they cut me out,” Matteson said, adding that she was not “completely shocked” about the omissions.

“I was not surprised at all they would try to change their public image,” she said of DPCC officials.

Recording the meetings is a service the district provides so that parents who don’t attend the meetings can be kept informed. But nowhere in the contract with RCD Video Management does it mention editing for content, but that will likely change now, district officials said.

The editing was authorized by Radford, who said in a telephone interview that it is not unusual for minutes and video recordings of the monthly meetings to be edited for space and to fit into a two-hour time slot for posting on the district website. Once the resolution to support Cuomo’s education agenda is voted on at the March 17 meeting, he added, the full discussion will appear in the video recording that gets posted to the Web.

“Every single DPCC video from the very beginning and every single DPCC minutes have been edited,” Radford said. “We have edited every single tape to include relevant information. The item wasn’t voted on, so there was no reason to include a tabled item in our video.”

District spokeswoman Elena Cala said this is the first time schools officials have had to deal with such an issue. But given recent events, they now will look at modifying the policy.

“There’s got to be an addendum to the contract that no editing can be made to the content without consulting the district,” Cala said.

McIntyre was not available to comment, but others at the meeting said the blow-up began about one hour and 18 minutes into the Feb. 3 meeting. At that point, Radford announces he has to leave briefly to pick up his son from a basketball game and that McIntyre would run the meeting in the meantime. Before he leaves, Radford quickly reviews some of the voting items that will come up while he’s gone, including the resolution to support Cuomo’s education plan, which he said takes a topic “that almost never has been a priority for a governor” and puts it on the “front burner.”

About two or three minutes later, Radford is shown sitting back down at the table as if he had never left. What’s missing, said attendees including Heath Frisch, director of the school district’s Office of Parent and Family Engagement, is the “heated exchange.”

“I do believe that would be accurate,” Frisch said of the way some parents described the incident.

Tensions flared when McIntyre took over and parents began asking questions about Cuomo’s plan. Some parents were feeling rushed and pressured to support the plan and wanted more information, such as how many students and teachers here would be affected.

“He was out of control,” Dosluoglu said of McIntyre’s behavior, adding that when he asked for the vote, he got “a little bit angry” when she raised her hand to say they needed more information. “He said that at the previous meeting, a handout was given to all members so they had ample time to read it and learn about it.”

McIntyre threw a “temper tantrum and started yelling, ‘I’m not going to let anyone speak on behalf of teachers,’ ” said Dosluoglu, a Turkish interpreter with the school district who has been a DPCC representative for five years.

It was clear that McIntyre and Radford wanted the group to support the plan and did not want any discussion about teachers, said Matteson, who felt the governor’s education plan could lead to increased student testing.

Radford said emotions were running high by the time he returned to the meeting and the item was tabled. He later directed the cameraman not to include discussions on the tabled items in the final cut, which he said often happens to make sure the meeting fits within the two-hour time frame for the website.

The resolution that started the flap will come up for discussion at this month’s meeting, which was rescheduled to March 17 because bad weather forced the cancellation of the March 3 meeting. In the future, DPCC members will have to discuss if they want full transcripts of the meetings as well as unedited video recordings, Radford said.

But the incident exposed fissures within the DPCC, which is solely a parent group, while the Buffalo PTO – by definition – includes teachers and has gotten financial support from teacher unions.

“It’s very one-sided, I think,” Matteson said of the DPCC hierarchy. Some of its leaders “speak very passionately about the viewpoints they are trying to convey, and it’s easy to get parents on board with what they’re trying to do ... It’s very difficult to go against something they’re pushing for. It’s been that way for years.”