By Carl Paladino
In a hearing for my removal from the Buffalo Board of Education before Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, evidence was presented that board members Barbara Seals Nevergold, Sharon Belton-Cottman, Theresa Harris-Tigg, Paulette Woods, Hope Jay and Jennifer Mecozzi, the Buffalo Teachers Federation and its president, Philip Rumore, conspired or colluded to rig the October 2016 contract between the Buffalo Public Schools and the BTF.
I request that:
1) Commissioner Elia:
• Discharge the entire Board of Education for cause.
• Appoint a competent special master to operate the BPS.
• Sanction the BTF and Rumore for their complicity.
• Commence an action against the BTF to abrogate the illegal contract.
2) The Buffalo Control Board convert to a “hard” board and act to abrogate the contract.
3) The U.S. attorney investigate the rigging of the contract to seek out criminal activity.
The contract cost significantly exceeds the ability of the BPS to pay. After three years, it will exhaust all of the BPS’ unrestricted reserves and still leave a $54 million deficit. As a result, intended reforms to the BPS’ dysfunctional operations such as lowering class sizes, implementation of the “Education Bargain” and neighborhood schools, expanding criteria schools, etc., are at risk. Present programs must be cut to cover the deficit, and no funds are available to complete contracts with the BPS’ other six unions.
In 2015, with contract negotiations between the BTF and BPS stalled for 12 years, the board retained attorney Terry O’Neil to negotiate with Rumore, who for 35 years skillfully negotiated contracts that adversely impacted Buffalo’s students. Over the following year Rumore brazenly and overtly refused to bargain in good faith with O’Neil, adjourning at the last minute at least 10 bargaining sessions.
Union sympathizers Nevergold, Harris-Tigg, Cottman and Mary Ruth Kapsiak, who the BTF had supported in their election campaigns, blatantly disregarded their conflicts of interest and complained about the cost of O’Neil’s billings (insignificant for a $1 billion-plus budget) – all to create a setting to terminate O’Neil.
Then Superintendent Kriner Cash, at the behest of the board’s union sympathizers and without prior authority from the entire board, discharged O’Neil.
Cash could now irresponsibly negotiate any contract terms acceptable to Rumore. His reward for scheming and selling out the students was bragging rights on his resume that he had resolved a 12-year contract impasse.
Needing a compliant board, Rumore invested in and elected union sympathizers in May 2016.
He then announced an “all call” general meeting of the teachers for Oct. 17, 2016, to ratify a contract – and quietly sent out the message that the teachers may call a strike or conduct a job action, illegal under the Taylor Law, but intended to intimidate Cash.
At the Oct. 12, 2016, board meeting Cash’s panicked concern over a strike was brought up as a reason to get increased authority to settle. Board member Larry Quinn and I argued that he not panic.
At the illegal executive session on Oct. 12, counsel updated the board on the negotiation status and Cash, who had already put approximately $65 million on the table, asked the board to authorize an additional $10 million, assuring the board it was affordable and he would secure the return of management prerogatives and the termination of lifetime health care benefits for new hires. The board approved his requested authority.
Evasive and with a selective memory at the removal hearing, Cash testified there were no board limits on his authority and his only instruction was to “make the contract.”
After negotiating to impasse on Oct. 16, Rumore and Cash left their staffs and went to another room to talk alone. They returned to announce a deal.
Cash had given the BTF in excess of $200 million, far exceeding his $75 million authority and conceding all management prerogative and health benefit issues.
Cash submitted the terms for ratification to a special meeting of the board on Oct. 17. The Nevergold majority then illegally adjourned to executive session. After Larry Quinn and I argued the public right to know the terms, hear the debate by their representatives and know the financial impacts, we refused to attend. We were denied a copy of the terms until the session was over. We were then given 15 minutes to read, comprehend the vague terms and ask questions before Cottman moved to close debate and vote without any discussion of the adverse financial impacts. The complicit board voted 7 to 2 to ratify the contract. Only in mid-June 2017, when a four-year plan was adopted for the Buffalo Control Board, could we see the actual destruction that the contract did to BPS operations.
The board is charged to avoid secrecy, thoroughly inform its constituents and act responsibly in their best interests. The most significant contract to be deliberated by board members during their terms was rushed to a vote with just 15 minutes of public discussion and no transparency.
Whether the BPS fleecing was incompetence or corruption, the people must know the quality of their representatives and negotiator and be aware that the BTF, chief adversary of the board, can buy the members of the board with election campaign support.
Carl Paladino represents the Park District on the Buffalo Board of Education.