I moved from East Aurora to South Buffalo in June 2015 – June 17, to be exact. [You’ll understand the reason for such specificity as you read this posting.]
I half-jokingly told my friends at the time that the primary motivation for my landing in South Buffalo was so that I could run against Carl P. Paladino for the Park District seat on the City of Buffalo’s Board of Education. I was sick and tired of his bullying, vitriol, and conflicts-of-interest. In reality, it was the prices of homes in the Queen City’s trendier neighborhoods, and a desire to live as close as possible to my teenage son in East Aurora, that led me to my humble-but-charming century-old home several blocks from Cazenovia Park.
But my belief that the residents – and, most especially, the children – of South Buffalo were not being well-served by Paladino’s act pre-dates my daily walks down Indian Church Road, across Seneca Street, and around Caz park. In fact, in March 2015, after reading yet another example of what I viewed as an endless stream of ill-conceived and unnecessary confrontations by The Carl, I posted a piece at this blog titled, “Dear Park District Voters, Please Don’t Re-elect Carl Paladino in 2016.”
To my chagrin, I discovered – not long after settling into my new home, neighborhood, and community – that I would not be eligible to run for the Park District seat in May 2016. Although I was a U.S. citizen, had never been convicted of a felony, and was a qualified voter of the Buffalo City School District (and, had been a resident of the City of Buffalo for approximately nineteen years prior to moving to East Aurora in 1996), I couldn’t meet two qualifications: “a resident of the city school district for three years and a resident of the [Park District] for a period of one year preceding the date of the election.” [See NYS Education Law, Section 2553(1).]
Mr. Paladino won an unexpectedly competitive race in March 2016. The most that I could do at the time was vote for his youthful opponent. The thought of three-more-years of Carl was distressing. And waiting until May 2019 for the next opportunity to seek the Park District seat – when I would unequivocally meet all of the requirements – seemed interminable.
So I decided to look for ways to personally assist and get to know the challenges facing the students in Buffalo’s public schools. During the summer of 2016, I responded to a call for volunteers from Read To Succeed Buffalo. The organization did not have arrangements at that time (they will this coming year) to place reading tutors/mentors in any of South Buffalo’s schools. But I’ve had the good fortune of spending two extremely rewarding and informative years volunteering twice a week at the Waterfront Elementary School, where I get to interact with a diverse group of bright, energetic second-graders.
As most of you are aware, Carl Paladino was removed from the Buffalo BOE in August 2017 by the State Education Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia. As succinctly described by Buffalo News reporter Jay Rey, the disciplinary action was taken against Paladino “for publicly disclosing private information from a School Board executive session – which happened in the wake of his inflammatory comments about former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.”
When the Board of Education solicited applicants to fill the vacant Park District seat in August 2017, I was unable to apply, shackled by the three-year City of Buffalo residency requirement. But I was pleased by the BOE’s unanimous choice of pediatric psychologist Catherine Flanagan-Priore to fill Carl’s place on the board. She brought a fresh perspective, and I looked forward to a new, more-placid, and productive era for the Buffalo school district, one devoid of the drama and discord associated with Mr. Paladino’s tenure.
Meanwhile, I have continued my own efforts to become more familiar with the day-to-day workings of Buffalo’s public schools. For the past year, I have worked as a Substitute Teacher in more than a dozen elementary schools throughout the city, spending a majority of my time in South Buffalo schools. The experience has been eye-opening in many ways, and on many levels.
But back to Buffalo’s BOE. Good times don’t seem to last all that long on the eighth floor of Buffalo City Hall. Last month – on May 16, 2018, to be exact – the Park District once again found itself without a member on the Buffalo Board of Education. Catherine Flanagan-Priore abruptly resigned her seat. As reported by local media, the Park District board member resigned on May 16 to protest the manner in which the BOE handled a new nursing contract (a board decision adversely impacting Flanagan-Priore’s employer, Kaleida Health).
The remaining members of the Buffalo’s BOE have 30 days from the date when the vacancy occurred to fill the open seat with a qualified person (or the Mayor, subject to confirmation by the Common Council, makes the appointment). That means that a majority of the board must select Ms. Flanagan-Prior’s replacement by June 16, 2018.[See Education Law Section 2553(10(n).]
My current residency in the City of Buffalo will not reach three successive years until June 17, 2018, the day after the BOE’s deadline for appointing the new Park District member.
Being the proverbial “day late” is a bummer. While I would have preferred that the respected child psychologist not have resigned at all, I can’t help but wish that she would have made the decision a bit less impulsively, or, at a minimum, had given her fellow board members some notice and made the resignation effective later in the month of May. Had either option occurred, the three-year residency deadline would have been pushed beyond June 17, 2018.
I am not in any way suggesting that I would have been the best qualified of the prospective applicants for this unexpected opening, or that a majority of the remaining eight board members would have chosen me as the new Park District member. But I certainly would have appreciated an opportunity to be interviewed by the BOE. And, had I been appointed, I would have been honored – and, humbled – to join the BOE members and undertake the challenge, on behalf of South Buffalo’s residents, to improve the City of Buffalo’s public school system.
While it may not be in any official capacity, I am ready, willing, and able to assist the current BOE members, and whomever is appointed to the vacant Park District seat, to further the interests of Buffalo’s students.
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