Sampson, Paladino have harsh words for outgoing school board majority

School Board members James Sampson (center), Carl Paladino (left), and Jason McCarthy (right). The three Board members helped elect Larry Quinn and Patricia Pierce, who will be installed in July. They are expected to give the School Board presidency to Sampson.

Last week, Dr. Barbara Nevergold and Florence Johnson wrote a letter expressing their concerns over a number of pending issues before the Board, including the future of a few campuses and how the district would find placements for students who have requested to be transferred from underperforming schools. Among the concerns raised was a private meeting that took place between James Sampson, the former CEO of Gateway Longview, and State Education Commissioner John King.

Sampson is a prominent Democrat who once served as the Chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority. He was supported — with huge sums of campaign contributions — by prominent party organizations including Democratic Action and Buffalo ReformED, of which he serves as Chairman. Both Sampson and King are supported by the faction of the Democratic Party that has supported education reform initiatives like Common Core, and both back Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has had an often contentious posture with Dr. Nevergold’s faction of the school board — and who actively undermined the administration of former Superintendent Pamela Brown.

So one can understand why Dr. Nevergold would be curious — even suspicious — of a private meeting between Sampson and King. She, with Ms. Johnson, said so in an open letter.

Nevergold also says that the incoming Board majority is secretly planning on appointing BOCES Superintendent Don Oglivie, and questions the transparency and openness of the behavior of the “new majority”. They note the open and broadly participatory process that the “old majority” engaged the public in during its recruitment of Dr. Brown.

Board members Barbara Nevergold (back), Sharon Belton Cottman (center), and Florence Johnson (front).
Board members Barbara Nevergold (back), Sharon Belton Cottman (center), and Florence Johnson (front).

The letter gave board members Paladino and Sampson an opportunity to pounce — and they both took it.

“Once again we are witnessing adults wanting to fight over issues that are only tangentially related to our collective responsibity to educate the students of this city. The letter from Barbara Nevergold and Florence Johnson once again strives to place blame, point fingers, and avoid responsibility,” Sampson writes. “It’s time to end the fighting, feigned indignation, drama, and chaos.”

Regarding his private meeting with Commissioner King, Sampson says of Nevergold and Johnson: “It seems as though their greatest concern is that I did not ask their blessing and permission or consult with the Board of Education. They of course lament that over the past year they were not able to arrange a meeting with him.”

“There was no agenda and I did not walk away with any ‘deals.’ I did however walk away with a better understanding of SED and King.” he explains. “Over the next year, as the drama and chaos fades, I hope the district becomes known for its predictability, dependability, and commitment to educational equality and opportunity for all children.”

For someone wanting predictability and stability, those seem like fighting words. His word choice also seems to cast the “old majority” in biased stereotypes that have long been propagated against African American women: “drama,” “chaos,” “fighting,” “feigned indignation,” etc.

Paladino held even fewer punches.

Carl Paladino (R-Park District) with outgoing board member John Licata (D-At Large) and interim Superintendent Will Kerezetes.
Carl Paladino (R-Park District) with outgoing board member John Licata (D-At Large) and interim Superintendent Will Kerezetes.

“Nevergold’s nonsensical diatribe clearly illustrates where the cataclysmic dysfunction in the BPS came from,” Paladino heralds. “Discussions at the Board table are comical at best. It’s like talking to uninformed, uneducated, scheming, clueless, and contriving pretenders and conspirator’s with no concept of their responsibilities or competency to solve problems and certainly a major problem with transparency, fairness, and truth.”

He continues, in his usual tone: “Arguing that 70% of the children are minority, they think that they, and not the citizens of the City of Buffalo, own the BPS and that it’s their little private piggy bank and source of jobs for their friends and family clubs who keep them in power.”

“They have no interest in ending the cycle of poverty in our urban center where the masses and 34,000 children suffer. The irony is that they talk the talk and say they do what they do for the kids but their actions are directed solely at their own empowerment,he alleges. “Nevergold sees nothing wrong, unethical, immoral, or illegal with taking campaign support from NYSUT and the BTF, the chief adversaries of the people of the City, who she is charged to represent.”

“Becoming irrelevant will be difficult for the present board majority” he concludes.

To my knowledge, Nevergold does not plan on becoming irrelevant.

Based on their behavior thus far, it looks like the incoming board majority is planning on embracing the polarized, hostile, and racialized discourse that has emerged in the last several years. That is very disappointing, and I would implore the soon to be School Board President Sampson to instead bring board members together.

If Sampson chooses to alienate rather than embrace Paladino on the right of his governing coalition of board members, he would likely pick up far more valuable allies on the left.

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