Sharp change of tone on school board after Orfield report

The tone was subdued after the presentation of Dr. Gary Orfeild, a national civil rights expert who was charged with investigating the the selection process that governs admissions to the city’s highest performing schools. The system has resulted in one of the most segregated school systems in the nation, with stark contrasts in performance and service delivery — almost strictly along the lines of race and class.

“It was an illumines report,” said board president James Sampson.

The Orfeild report detailed the trends in student enrollment over several decades. In the 1970’s the city had been heralded as a national model for school integration, with a vast system of forced busing. The flight of working class whites the suburbs largely resulted in a resegregation of the school system, which was made more stark with the closing of specialized magnate schools, the introduction of generalized charter schools, and a gradual stratification of the application processes to the city’s high performing schools.

The Orfeild report will be available online shortly, Board President James Sampson said.

Many of the speakers who appear regularly at board meeting and have organized feverishly around education reform issues, had a notably more conciliatory tone than in recent weeks that have been characterized as contentious and boisterous.

“I want to thank the speakers. You have all become familiar to us. This is all about controlling the school district going forward, and you have helped to articulate that position, so thank you,” said Superintendent Donald Ogilvie.

It is unclear how the report will effect decision making going forward, but in the aftermath of Orfeild’s presentation, it seems to have affected the board’s thinking — or perhaps just the tone. When asked, Sampson said that the public will have an additional opportunity to engage with the board regarding the report at a later date.

The report was an obvious indictment of former boards going back to at least 1995, when the district pulled back from the magnate school model. Although the report does not mention members my name, it is a scathing analysis for which former board members should answer. Figures like Chris Jacobs, Florence Johnson, and Darius Pridgen should explain their decision making.

Some speakers — including educators who have emerged as loud and substantive voices on education issues, Mel Holden and Eve Shippins — made reference to the possibility that teachers may begin organizing politically and field candidates for office. Both educators — along with BPTO President Larry Scott — have been mentioned as possible candidates for the state legislature.

At the close of the meeting — making a point met with unanimous agreement — board member Larry Quinn asked if the board could get a report as to how it spent over $1 billion in school reconstruction and, still, McKinley High School (where the meeting was held) was equipped with such a glitchy sound system.

The point — implicitly about corruption related to Lou Ciminelli’s massive contract — was well taken.

Eve Shippins is a teacher and parent who has emerged as a social justice advocate in the city.
Eve Shippins is a teacher and parent who has emerged as a social justice advocate in the city.
Mel Holden is a longtime Buffalo teacher who recently challenged BTF President Philip Rumore's slate of executive board candidates.
Mel Holden is a longtime Buffalo teacher who recently challenged BTF President Philip Rumore’s slate of executive board candidates.

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