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School district transparency: Still work to do

Getting information from the Buffalo school district is often a struggle. But there are a few specific things worth updating the public on.

1. Sampson's transparency resolution

Virtually lost amid the controversy of last Wednesday's board meeting was a resolution by board member Jim Sampson to move school board meetings out into the community. I got a few of the details wrong in the story we published Thursday (since corrected) but here's the upshot of his transparency resolution:

Starting with the board's next meeting on Oct. 9, the first Buffalo school board meeting of every month will be held in a district public school instead of the cramped board chambers at City Hall. The school that's chosen (some have suggested the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts) would need to have adequate seating and parking, and be "easily accessible" (which I assume means along a public transportation route and handicapped accessible). The second board meeting of the month will still be held in City Hall.

In addition, 48 hours prior to all school board meetings, all agendas and non-confidential supporting material are to be posted to the district's website without password protection (contrary to the current practice). The resolution also requires that all meetings be live streamed on the district's website.

Sampson's original resolution asked that all regular board meetings and committee meetings be held outside of City Hall. But some other board members pushed back against moving the meetings, saying the number of people attending these meetings doesn't warrant such a move (recent board meetings have been packed) and that it would be inconvenient for City Hall and board staff. Thus, the resolution was amended to its final, scaled-back form and passed 8-1, with board member Florence Johnson voting against.

Chief Technology Officer Sanjay Gilani said the cost to move regular board meetings out of City Hall would be $39,100. That's money that would have to be spent anyway because the equipment in board chambers is 20 years old, he said. Jim Kane, executive director of operational services, suggested the approval of up to $50,000 to make the equipment purchases etc. necessary for the change.

2. School calendar coming soon?

Last Monday, district spokeswoman Elena Cala said the district's 2013-14 school calendar would be printed and distributed in two weeks. Today, a week later, she said the calender is still two weeks off. Last school year, the district didn't get around to printing and distributing the Buffalo school calendar until December, when half the year was over, even though the board approved the district calendar in June. I'll be interested to see whether the calendar gets distributed in two weeks or not.

If the school calendar is released by mid-October, that would mean it's being sent to parents only one month late instead of three. The calendar is, of course, published on the district's website, but not every parent has Internet access. Moreover, if the district really wants parents to be more involved in their children's education, then it would help to give parents the ability to post the school calendar to their kitchen refrigerator so they can check the schedule at a glance and see all testing and district event dates. Right?

Cala said yesterday that the district is still waiting on a calendar proof, and now that some school board meetings will be moved out of City Hall, she'd like that updated information printed on the calendar (the only positive thing about the calendar being so delayed). We look forward to getting the school calendar before "Jingle Bells" starts playing. 

3. Info for the reorganization story

Reporting on the school district's reorganization Sunday was extremely tough because of the inability for The Buffalo News to get the kinds of details we needed to write a complete and accurate story. We waited three weeks to get some basic grant information from Chief Financial Officer Barbara Smith, which wasn't provided until late Friday afternoon, and despite promises by Supt. Brown to make sure we were connected with HR administrator Darren Brown on Friday to doublecheck our facts and figures regarding personnel hires, he never spoke with us even though we waited late into the evening for the opportunity.

We've been asking for cost information related to the superintendent's reorganization since early July. When The News first began looking into the matter nearly three months ago, the district initially gave The News a color-coded copy of the new organizational chart -- without the color key. We eventually got the color key, which denoted some of the new hires, and spoke with consultant Mary Guinn at length about it. But despite her being a supervisor of the district's reorganization, no one in the district referred us to Guinn for this past Sunday's story because she's a consultant and apparently, it would be "inappropriate" for her to speak on behalf of the district. We would point out she was a consult in July, as well.  

We based our story on the limited information provided by the district to us and/or school board members over the past two months and filled in some unknowns through other sources. We wish we could say this type of frustrating district response is unusual, but we can't.

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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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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