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Lack of transparency continues

Yesterday's special Buffalo school board meeting and committee meetings were loaded with newsworthy information, some of which we'll have to catch up with over the course of the next week. Look for more stories and blog posts in the coming days.

But first, a follow-up on my last blog post about the Buffalo school district's philosophy and actions when it comes to matters of transparency. The special meeting called for 4 p.m. yesterday originally listed two agenda items, one on the Cross and Joftus consulting firm, and one on "other items" from the superintendent. In fact, that was the printed agenda still listed on the official Buffalo City Schools homepage this morning.

But the actual agenda board members received Wednesday was different.

It listed Cross and Joftus and a $105,000 contract with the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. The superintendent -- with the board's blessing -- also verbally recommended that Middle Early College be moved to Math Science Technology Prep. (Don't be surprised to hear some backlash about that.) We wondered why board members are required to submit resolutions for consideration 48 hours in advance of a meeting, and yet other district proposals often wind up on an agenda that's been changed at the last minute and not shared in advance with the public or even most members of the board.

Well, we found out last night because Jim Kane, chief of operational services, was reviewing proposed changes to the board agenda during the Executive Affairs Committee. He mentioned the superintendent is exempt from these rules. In fact, the superintendent can tack resolutions onto the agenda at any time as long as she/he considers it a "late item."

Here's the language from Policy 1510:

No committee, nor the entire Board, will act, study, or decide upon an issue unless the supporting documentation has been made freely available to all Board members at least 48 hours in advance of the above mentioned action, with the exception of “Late Items” filed as such by the Superintendent for action at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board.

There aren't any actual standards for what is considered a "late item." We would also point out that last night's meeting was not a "regularly scheduled meeting" but rather, a special meeting.

Below is what the policy governing special meetings says. Note our emphasis:

A reasonable and good faith effort shall be made by the Superintendent or the Board President, as the case may be, to give every member of the Board forty-eight hours' notice of the time, place and purpose of the meeting.

Getting updated agenda information out to the public should be a matter of a few mouse clicks. Is it a breach of law to frequently leave items off a public agenda or distribute an incomplete one? No. Is it a breach of public responsibility? We think so.

In a related matter, board member Theresa Harris-Tigg said Wednesday that it was extremely difficult for new board members to find out about previously adopted board resolutions because until last week (when two out of four were listed), no board member resolutions were ever included as part of the official agenda.

Kane said that's because until recently (read: until Carl Paladino joined the board) few board members introduced resolutions, and any resolutions they did introduce were referred to committee. Board members seemed unimpressed with that reasoning.

Finally, many other board members expressed concern Wednesday that committee meetings are not recorded, nor are minutes taken for all committee meetings. Harris-Tigg asked that someone be required to take detailed minutes at every committee meeting. She pointed out that previously, there were recordings and detailed minutes taken of Student Achievement Committee meetings (which she now chairs), but that doesn't happen anymore.

"Well, I don't know," Kane responded. "I've got my Executive Committee meeting minutes going back 10 years. So I don't understand the issue."

"Listen to me carefully," Mary Ruth Kapsiak interjected. "That's the Executive Committee meetings. The Student Support Committee meetings (which Kapsiak chairs), I don't have minutes from. So let's be clear on that."

We hope the district will begin to regularly keep and post detailed minutes of all the board committee meetings. As it stands, the school district doesn't even post committee agendas.

But even if they don't, you still have The Buffalo News. We attend the committee meetings. We stay 'til the end, and we tell people what happened. It shouldn't be just be our responsibility, but at least we recognize that we have one.

-- Sandra Tan

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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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