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Paladino continues to stir the pot

Board member Carl Paladino continued to stir anger and frustration among board members Wednesday night over topics ranging from the superintendent's central office reorganization, to her evaluation, to his interest in promoting neighborhood schools.

Some of his bald accusations were old ones and some were new, but his interrogator-style of speaking is unchanged -- frank, accusatory, and interruptive. He usually has the most firey exchanges with fellow board member Sharon Belton-Cottman. Though both would be loathe to admit it, they share some similar personality traits. Both are brutally frank speakers, and both tend to embrace confrontation over diplomacy when the conversation starts getting hot. In contrast, Superintendent Brown wears her calm composure like a shield in the face of Paladino's accusations.

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Two state lawmakers call on King to revive cancelled forums

The reaction to Education Commissioner John King's decision to bail out of a series of public forums on Common Core continued to simmer Tuesday.

Two state lawmwakers called on King to reschedule the meetings, and a network of advocacy groups that oppose "excessive testing" in public schools has started a campaign aimed at ousting King.

Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, in a letter he released publicly, told King that canceling his appearance at a New York State PTA forum on the new state curriculum standards in Williamsville "only reinforces the concern over how the Common Core is being implemented."

"Hiding from accountability is not the answer," Ryan said. "Canceling these forums shows a complete lack of leadership, and I am disappointed that you chose to end the dialogue on a topic that is of great concern to many teachers and parents."

State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, also asked King to reverse his decision. “I believe it would be enormously beneficial for local parents to be able to discuss these issues with you in person,” Kennedy wrote.

Meanwhile, New York State Allies for Public Education on Tuesday called on parents to contact the governor's office and other state leaders to urge them to seek King's resignation.

A statement released by the group criticizes King for cancelling four public forums with the New York State PTA. Read more on the reaction to the cancellation and the response from the state Department of Education in today's City & Region section: "Parents upset by King's cancellation of Common Core meetings."

NYS Allies for Public Education includes 43 advocacy groups across the state, including Western New Yorkers for Public Education. It is not clear how many people are actively involved in the organizations.

Eric Mihelbergel, a City of Tonawanda parent who is a member of Western New Yorkers for Public Education, said the campaign got off to a "quick start" on Tuesday with parents calling and emailing state leaders.

King, in a statement released Saturday, said disruptions at the first forum in Poughkeepsie last week "deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments." A spokesman for King said Monday that the commissioner will look for additional ways to communicate with parents.

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Ken-Ton district releases school consolidation scenario surveys

The Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District announced it is offering employees and community members an opportunity to contribute input on the four consolidation scenarios under consideration. The scenario surveys are due Oct. 25.

The four scenarios would:

• Close one of the district’s two high schools while the other would contain grades 10 through 12; a junior high school in the other building would contain grades 7 through 9; and there would be prekindergarten through grade 6 at an undetermined number of elementary schools – although at least two, but possibly four, elementary schools would close.

• Close one undetermined elementary school and one undetermined middle school.

• Close Kenmore Middle and two or three undetermined elementary schools; reconfigure Kenmore East and West to include grades 8 through 12; reconfigure Franklin Middle and Hoover Middle to include grades 5 through 7; and reconfigure Franklin Elementary and Hoover Elementary and two or three undetermined elementary schools to include pre-K through grade 4.

• Reconfigure Kenmore East and West to include grades 7 through 12; reconfigure the Hoover and Franklin complexes to include pre-K through grade 6; and transform two undetermined elementary schools into “specialty” or “themed” elementary schools.

— Joseph Popiolkowski

Which top Buffalo school administrators were "rehired" in the face of improper hiring practices

Among the many things the Buffalo school board did late Wednesday (and I mean LATE) was to vote 7-2 to essentially rehire all of the top central office administrators in Buffalo Public Schools to address improper district hiring practices. Most, but not all, comprise the superintendent's executive cabinet.

Here's the actual resolution. The listed employee salaries represent no change, but education lawyer Karl Kristoff said all employment contracts will need to be renegotiated anyway.

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Live blog: Buffalo school board meeting Oct. 9

Tonight's meeting once again should be a long one. The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. in the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts. As noted in the last School Zone blog post, the school board's meeting agendas will now be publicly posted on the district's website, in advance, from now on.

Despite the decision by Cross & Joftus to withdraw its contract with the Buffalo school district, this matter is still likely to come up for some board discussion. There are a couple resolutions regarding the consulting company, for whom consultant Mary Guinn works, but they may now be moot. Other issues include: parent complaints about the district's student wellness policy, discussion of the reorganization, and a variety of resolutions from board member Carl Paladino.

The school board agenda is secret no longer

After much back and forth this week, I'm happy to announce that the Buffalo school district will now publicly post its full agenda on the district's website. That's right. Buffalo City Schools has joined the modern era (years behind other school districts in the region) by making this public document publicly available. No more passwords, and no more need for parents, teachers and community members to wait anxiously for The Buffalo News to repost the full board agenda openly on its own website. The Buffalo school district will now post all school board agenda packets prior to each regular meeting without any further "help" from us.

Continue reading "The school board agenda is secret no longer" »

How many kids were suspended at your Buffalo public school? Here's the school-by-school suspension breakdown

Last week, the Buffalo school district released its student suspension data for last school year. With the district overall taking more of an "intervention" approach to resolving student problems, rather than a punitive approach, short-term suspensions have fallen districtwide over the past several years. The district also approved a new Code of Conduct in the spring designed to reduce suspensions further.

But long-term suspensions for serious offenses have risen over the last two years. Moreover, certain schools have shown alarming increases in their short-term suspensions, as well.

Of particular note is Harriet Ross Tubman School 31. This elementary school, serving children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, issued 666 short-term suspensions in 2012-13. While that number ('I'll try not to read into this any demonic signs) is high on its own, it's even higher in the context of the school's total enrollment. School 31 enrolled 455 students last year. That means many students were repeatedly suspended from the school last year. The year before that, the school suspended 573 children, so the number of suspensions actually rose over the last two years, contrary to the overall districtwide trend.

Continue reading "How many kids were suspended at your Buffalo public school? Here's the school-by-school suspension breakdown" »

A visual look at Supt. Brown's central office reorganization

As stated in today's story, Buffalo schools superintendent Pamela Brown's central office reorganization is expected to cost about $1.6 million in salaries and benefits for new employees. Brown's contention has been that the reorganization actually saves money because many positions will be grant funded instead of being funded out of the main operating budget. The News and the administration disagree.

However, as a way of highlighting its position, the district created an extremely useful visual document this past week -- a color-coded organizational chart. It's much more detailed and provides much more information than the last one we posted.

Continue reading "A visual look at Supt. Brown's central office reorganization" »

School board meetings move out of City Hall

Thanks to a resolution by board member Jim Sampson, three of the next four regularly scheduled Buffalo school board meetings will not be held in City Hall. The next one, coming up Wednesday, will be held at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. See the announcement below for where and when all regular board meetings will be held between now and the end of December.

I will be very interested to see how the district chooses to set up the board seating once the meetings are moved out of Room 801 of City Hall. Because of the cramped room setting in City Hall, all board members sit around a long board table and face each other instead of the public. That makes it hard for the public to see and hear who is speaking during the meeting. It also appears disrespectful to public speakers when board members are seated with their backs to them, which is why board members sitting on one side of the table end up doing a lot of chair swiveling during the presentation and public comment period.

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Paladino takes aim at board president

It didn't take long for maverick Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino to add board President Barbara Seals Nevergold to his ever-growing list of people he doesn't think deserve to keep their jobs.

Since Paladino has joined the board, Nevergold and other board members have struggled with Paladino's tendency to consume the board agenda and committee meetings with an unending list of questions, his raw interrogation style, and his unflattering characterizations of district employees and officials.

Paladino, meanwhile, has resented attempts by Nevergold and others to contain him, labeling them as enemies of transparency, openness and academic improvement.

Continue reading "Paladino takes aim at board president" »

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | djgee@buffnews.com


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | tlankes@buffnews.com


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | stan@buffnews.com


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | dswilliams@buffnews.com

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