Rare state hearing will decide Paladino’s fate

ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) — The six-month wait for the hearing that will determine the fate of Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino is nearly over. The unprecedented hearing on the petition for his removal begins at 9 a.m. Thursday at the State Education Building.

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The central question is this: Did Paladino violate his duties as a board member by divulging what the district is considering confidential information?
For the next week, most eyes in Buffalo City Schools will be directed to the state’s capital, some 280 miles away. Summer has officially started, signaling the end of school, so some say the timing couldn’t be better.
This week’s hearing is new territory for the state, according to Tim Kremer and Jay Worona, of the New York State School Boards Association.
“Generally, there aren’t full fledged hearings such as this,” said Worona, the deputy executive director and general counsel of the NYSSBA. “I think given the notoriety and the attention that has been focused on this, I think our commissioner wants to make sure that there are no questions about the process. She wants to make sure she gets this right.”
At stake is whether Paladino divulged to the public confidential information he learned during executive sessions, specifically about personnel matters, contract negotiations with teachers and pending lawsuits.
The school board says he did — not once, but twice — in separate articles that appeared in ArtVoice.
“All of those matters are supposed to be kept confidential, and board members can be removed for divulging that confidentiality, ” Worona said. “But again, the big issue before the commissioner is whether that stuff was already out in public space.”
Paladino has maintained that the school board is retaliating against him for what he said about Barack and Michelle Obama, also in ArtVoice, in December. Paladino made disparaging and what many have described as racist remarks about the former president and first lady, but said the comments were meant for a friend, and sent unintentionally to the publication.
Paladino has said the local board is violating his First Amendment right to free speech, and using their distaste for his comments to retaliate against him. A federal lawsuit was filed last week, naming six members of the Buffalo board of education that are expected to testify against him in Albany.
“We already know that Dennis Vacco will be maintaining that all of that confidential stuff is really subterfuge for really what the issue is, which is that the board didn’t like what he had to say and they’re proclaiming that, to the extent which those statements were or were not problematic, those are protected under the First Amendment,” Worona said.
Although there’s no record of such a hearing in the past half century, the measure is akin to the reputation of Buffalo’s school board, state officials said.
“Boards [of education] should never be the story,” said Tim Kremer, executive director of the NYSSBA. “We want them to focus on student achievement and creating an environment where people feel they’re getting a good educational investment.”
But that’s not the perception, according to state school board leaders, who have worked with the local board on training and other matters.
“They’re (the public) not looking for all of this fighting and fussing that’s taking place between the boards. I think most communities hate to see that happen,” Kremer said.
Kremer says the introduction of superintendent Kriner Cash showed an almost immediate positive impact.

“And I thought that maybe Buffalo is going to start moving in the right direction, so here we are again with this big divide, this big conflict taking place, mostly over personality clashes,” he said. “Everything is local. And the Board of Education has been troubled off and on for a long period of time.”

Added Kremer: “Certainly the last few years that Carl Paladino has been on the board, there’s been this divide between almost male and female, black and white, different parts of town, perhaps Democrat and Republican. The divide has been really clear and it doesn’t seem as if they can get beyond that.”
Although there’s no precedent for such state hearings, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has the option of an immediate ruling. But in all likelihood, she will issue a written order weeks or months after the hearing has ended.
Paladino has already indicated that if he is removed, he will appeal.

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