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Contradictions arise linking union, Buffalo PTO

The parent-teacher group that led last week’s rally against a Buffalo School Board member and the president of the local teachers union both denied the group is funded by the union.

But that contradicts press releases issued last year by New York State United Teachers and the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization.

Now, leaders of the organizations are trying to explain the discrepancy as questions arise about who is behind the campaign to pump up the troubled school district and go after one its loudest critics.

Meanwhile, the target of last week’s protest – Board Member Carl Paladino – is being supported Wednesday on the steps of City Hall. According to an email flyer promoting the “PRO-CARL Rally” – which Paladino widely forwarded – the demonstration was organized by “people that know and love Carl.” The flyer attributes last week’s protest and other criticisms of Paladino to people trying to “undermine the Buffalo Schools Reform Movement.”

The dueling rallies are the latest skirmishes between school unions and the School Board’s reform faction, represented most stridently by Paladino, who calls the BPTO a “smokescreen” for a teachers union resistant to change.

That led both the BPTO and union leaders last week to deny that the parent-teacher group was funded by teacher unions.

Yet a 2014 union press release heralding the “Buffalo Schools: Believe!” effort to promote the district said the $500,000 “BPTO campaign is being funded through grants from NYSUT, the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the National Education Association.”

In its own press release about the multi-media effort, the BPTO said it “secured a grant for the communications campaign from the National Education Association, with assistance from New York State United Teachers and the Buffalo Teachers Federation.”

However, that’s not the impression BPTO Co-chairman Larry Scott and BTF President Philip Rumore gave last week following the rally by BPTO and other groups denouncing Paladino for what they labeled “racist and adverse” behavior. Scott said his organization is not funded by the BTF and has no connection with Rumore, who later concurred by saying “BTF has made no financial contributions to the BPTO.”

Scott, when asked specifically about the $500,000, said “The BTF has not directly received those funds, to my knowledge, so they have not had any control over those funds in any way, to my knowledge.”

When asked this week about the contradiction, NYSUT Regional Director Mike Deely – who also was BPTO treasurer until May, shortly before his son graduated from Olmsted 156 – said the union and BPTO press releases were wrong and that the parent-teacher group was never the recipient of the grant.

As Deely now explains it, NYSUT received an NEA grant of $300,000 – not $500,000 – to do PR supporting the Buffalo Public Schools. After NYSUT won the grant, staff contacted district administrators, board members and community members - including BPTO - to get involved.

The idea resonated with BPTO members and the 2014 press release inaccurately gave the impression that BPTO owned the campaign, Deely said, when in fact it was a collaboration.

The campaign to persuade the public that good things are happening in Buffalo’s schools – ostensibly run by the BPTO – included a web site, two billboards, radio and TV ads, as well as T-shirts, buttons and yard signs. The shirts, buttons and yard signs were provided to BPTO, Say Yes and other organizations from NYSUT through the $300,000 grant, Scott said.

Scott said the BPTO has not received any of the money directly and that the group was not set up to receive funds because it had not secured its non-profit status until January of this year. That is why the group did not file a Form 990 with the IRS detailing its activities.

“There was no direct spending BPTO made,” Scott said. “This coming year, we will be required to file the proper paperwork on donations and spending.”

This is not the first time NYSUT has appeared to try to hide its spending or its efforts to influence the public. It was thought to be behind a particularly nasty flyer sent out during the 2013 School Board election, an accusation the union would not deny. In a 2014 State Senate race, it spent heavily to boost a candidate it thought would provide weaker opposition to the pro-union candidate it really was backing.

For his part, Paladino claims no knowledge of the Wednesday rally called to support him. In response to a Buffalo News inquiry about who organized the rally, the board member texted: “Seriously, I have no idea,” adding “I had nothing to do with it.”