Opinion, Buffalo News
In a school system that desperately needs all the help it can get, charter school opponents areattempting to further their interests by targeting School Board member Carl Paladino.
(Buffalo News file photo)
on November 17, 2014 – 12:01 AM
The attack on Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino over his ties to charter schools is a calculated attempt to prevent the creation of more charters, at the expense of Buffalo’s schoolchildren.
The city’s approximately 34,000 students need educational opportunities that are not being provided by the system’s traditional public schools.
Upset over the board’s invitation to bring more charter schools to Buffalo, opponents hope they can prevent Paladino from voting on charter school matters, which now are generally approved 5-4, and stop any expansion.
Taking Paladino out of key votes on questionable grounds in order to deadlock the board is a harmful calculation for students who will then be forced to continue attending underperforming schools.
Charter schools are not perfect. Some of them have failed and been closed, and some will do so in the future. But charters also have the flexibility needed to succeed. Rather than expending effort on this attack on Paladino, these groups would do well to focus on the real problem of providing a sound, quality education to all students.
Buffalo resident Joan L. Simmons has filed complaints with five federal, state and city departments, accusing Paladino, a real estate developer, of conflicts of interest because he has business interests in six city charter schools while voting on matters affecting charter schools.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation has sponsored rallies and the Alliance for Quality Education and Citizen Action have released a report titled “Good for Kids or Good for Carl?”
Paladino and his company, Ellicott Development, have interests all over the city. The charter schools, probably among the least profitable deals for the company, include Health Sciences, Applied Technologies, Tapestry, Aloma D. Johnson and West Buffalo. He also is involved with the Charter School of Inquiry, which is scheduled to open next fall, though that deal is not yet complete.
Give Paladino credit for disclosure. He sat down with The News for several hours reviewing financial files on the charter schools in which he has a partial or full ownership stake.
He said charter schools account for only 2 percent of Ellicott Development’s holdings, and pointed out that other developers stay away from such investments because of the risk. Charters are guaranteed only for up to five years, before they must apply to the state for an extension.
Paladino said he expects only a 10 percent return but invests in charters because he believes in them. Speaking his mind as always, he said: “No other developer would risk their money this way, because I’m totally insane.”
He’s also worked out a method on paper to distance himself from his charter school holdings, not unusual when business owners enter public office.
The developer is absolutely right when he acknowledges that he is the “lightning rod” to those who object to charters, particularly unions.
But the coordinated attack on Paladino’s right to vote on charter issues feels very much like the unsavory campaign by New York State United Teachers against Sen. Mark J. Grisanti. The real goal in each effort is to prevent changes to a failing educational system.
Paladino has shown he can take care of himself and shrugs off this latest barrage of attacks as “another day at the office.”
But if the attack on him is successful, the real losers will be the schoolkids whose education might be rescued by an expansion of charter schools.