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Charter school leases and test-taking policies overshadow failed bid to fire superintendent

School Board member Carl Paladino withdrew his resolution Wednesday to fire Interim School Superintendent Donald Ogilvie – a late and anticlimactic moment in a long meeting that addressed several hot issues related to student test taking, summer school and charter school leases but ultimately degenerated into petty arguments and name calling.

Paladino said he withdrew his resolution to terminate Ogilvie immediately because his resolution was already successful in getting the attention he sought.

“We’ve raised the spectre of treachery and betrayal of our superintendent to the promises he made to the majority of the board,” he said after the meeting ended at close to 11:30 p.m.

Had Paladino not withdrawn his resolution, it’s likely the resolution would have failed for lack of a second since none of the other eight board members was willing to support it, despite the board majority’s disappointment in Ogilvie’s performance.

Board minority bloc member Barbara A. Seals Nevergold responded to Paladino’s resolution by saying, “He uses the words ‘betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ and ‘traitor’ in talking about Mr. Ogilvie. Those are very personalized words. Those words have nothing to do with the man’s ability and competence.”

In other key matters decided Wednesday:

• The board dumped the idea of leasing vacant school buildings to charter schools.

Board members voted 8-1 on a resolution that would return vacant School 8 and vacant School 40 to the City of Buffalo. The resolution includes a “request” that the city consider leasing these two buildings to interested charter school operators. Board member Sharon Belton-Cottman voted against.

The resolution, sponsored by board member Larry Quinn, originally called for the district to lease five vacant or could-be-made-vacant school buildings directly to charter schools. After further review, however, he narrowed his resolution to two vacant school buildings.

The board chose to revert the buildings to the city after learning two things:

The Buffalo Common Council issued a letter Tuesday indicating that it is not legally permissible for the Buffalo School Board to lease any city-owned buildings – which the vast majority of Buffalo school district buildings are. In addition, board majority members learned that if the district attempted to lease buildings to charters, charter schools would be required to utilize district staff custodians, which would increase charter school operating costs.

• The board unanimously adopted a districtwide policy that would permit students who refuse to take the state standardized test to read alternate material. The resolution, submitted by Seals Nevergold, is meant to end the practice derisively referred to as “sit-and-stare” that does not permit students who opt out of the state tests to do any other alternate work or reading.

Until now, each district school was allowed to determine how to address students who wish to opt out of state assessments.

• The board argued over whether it’s appropriate for the board majority to hire a deputy superintendent with the intention of sliding that person into the superintendent’s seat. The board majority members have stated they want a deputy hired who could slide seamlessly into the position and immediately address the many issues facing the district.

“We need someone who can hit the ground running,” said board member Jason McCarthy.

Board minority bloc members pointed out that the deputy superintendent job description doesn’t mention the fact that the candidate may soon slide into the superintendent’s seat. Ogilvie has indicated he plans to leave the district at the end of the school year.

“That’s not fair,” said board member Theresa Harris-Tigg.

Ogilvie stated there are 10 candidates for the deputy superintendent’s seat and that he has informed all of the candidates that it’s possible the candidate may be expected to assume the superintendent’s seat upon Ogilvie’s departure, though it’s not certain.

The resolution by the board minority bloc to go ahead and conduct a search for permanent superintendent failed 5-4.

• The district administration indicated that it plans to drop elementary summer school programs for all children in grades kindergarten through 6, saying the summer school programs are costly and that half the students who enroll wind up dropping out. The money saved from not offering summer school would be used to reduce kindergarten class sizes. The district would also reach out to outside groups to help provide books and summer programs for children. The presentation was met with opposition from public speakers who denounced the plan.

• Ogilvie sent a letter to parents Wednesday stating that parents who keep their students from taking state assessment tests could hurt their chances of getting into their desired high school but the decision will not disqualify them from consideration. Ogilvie points out in the letter, posted on the district’s website and referenced in automated calls to parents, that state guidelines allow school districts to include state assessment test results as “one of various measures used to determine admissions into schools.”

For a complete review of Wednesday’s board meeting, review the live coverage on the School Zone blog at www.buffalonews.com/schoolzone

email: stan@buffnews.com