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Transparency violations abound on the Buffalo School Board

The Buffalo School Board's and district administration's ongoing disrespect to the public continues unabated.

Despite many written and verbal complaints on the part of Buffalo News reporters to get the Buffalo School district and school board to take seriously the issue of transparency, it's just not happening. A couple of board members have talked about transparency and even submitted resolutions about it, but when it comes to enforcing such matters, no one appears willing to make the effort.

Take last week's regular board meeting. The agenda summary listed 15 resolutions. The problem was there were actually 18.

Two resolutions left off the agenda were from board member Jason McCarthy, regarding his request for a new fine arts elementary school and the reinstatement of a district cosmetology program.

When I informed several district administrators and board members in advance that McCarthy's resolutions were missing and asked that they be added to the online agenda packet, one district administrator said it wasn't her problem, and nobody else bothered to respond to my request. McCarthy's resolutions were never listed.

The 18th missing resolution was about new afterschool programs being rolled out in schools across the district in partnership with Say Yes. Now, a PR-savvy district would not only have posted this resolution but even spoon-fed the good news to the media to showcase how the district is moving forward to provide more services to children.

Of course, that's not what happened. Instead, the district gave an aren't-we-great PowerPoint presentation Wednesday night that reflected shocking, last-minute changes (which board members said they didn't know about), and the board went right along and passed a resolution that no one with Say Yes had even seen. The outcome: A bunch of confused and disturbed Say Yes folks were left scratching their heads in the hallway wondering what just happened.

That's the thing about transparency failures. They don't just hurt those of us in the journalism business. They hurt lots of people, including well-intentioned folks who want help and parents who want to stay informed about the education of their own children.

It's easy to knock the district for this, but they aren't the only ones who don't appear to care about this issue. Ever since James Sampson's transparency resolution was adopted in September to make all board agenda packets and supplemental materials available to the public on the website, rarely does an agenda get posted without resolutions and supplemental presentations missing. We at The News will notice and complain. But we are usually the only ones.

Board members should demand better of the nearly $1 billion public organization they oversee. The public should demand better, too. They deserve better.

On Monday, a special meeting was announced by Board President Barbara Nevergold. It will be held at 4 p.m. today in Room 801 of City Hall. The agenda lists two items: 1. Contract for Cross and Joftus, and 2. Other items brought by Superintendent Brown.

Reporters here wasted a good amount of time and energy contacting the district and several board members to see if they have any more additional information about the Cross and Joftus contract beyond the five-word descriptor. The answer is, nope, nobody does. As for other items brought by the superintendent? That's right. Nobody has information about that either.

The state's Open Meetings Law REQUIRES that information to be discussed and voted on by a public body be posted online as soon as practicable. The fact that district leaders and board members continue to allow such violations of the law through ignorance, silence or sheer disregard for the public interests should be offend everyone.

If it did, maybe something would finally change.

-- 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 | [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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