Mark Twain once said, “in the first place God made idiots.This was for practice. Then he made school boards.” As a twelve-year school member in central New Jersey I could take umbrage at this quip but instead I’ll emend it: In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made certain school board members, particularly Carl Paladino of Buffalo Public Schools.
Well-functioning school boards conduct decorous, responsive, and drama-free public meetings. Members keep a close eye on academic and fiscal accountability, respect students, parents, staff, administrators, and taxpayers, and eschew micromanagement. They open their books to the public (personnel and litigation files aside, as proscribed by law) and, thus, earn the trust of stakeholders. But this optimal dynamic can be sabotaged by the presence of one rogue, self-aggrandizing, idiotic board member. I’ve seen this happen before and it isn’t pretty. Only strong leadership and a consensus to reject disruption solves the problem.
This isn’t happening in Buffalo.
By now most of you will have heard that last week Paladino, an upstate politico and gubernatorial wannabe (he ran against Andrew Cuomo in 2010 after an endorsement by the Tea Party and lost in a landslide), responded to two innocuous questions from a local publication. The first question was “what would you like to see in 2017?” Here’s Paladino:
Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady [sic] cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.
The second question was “what would you like to see go away in 2017,” Here’s Paladino:
Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.
His comments were widely condemned as racist and, well, idiotic. The Buffalo School Board promptly passed a resolution on a 6-2 vote (how two members actually voted against the resolution is another sign of dysfunction) demanding Paladino’s resignation. He refused. The Board then made a formal request to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to remove him from the board on the grounds of neglecting duties and violating state law. Elia, according to the Buffalo News, is “reviewing her options.”
This is not the first time Palandino has revealed his racism. In 2008 Paladino forwarded a message to a long list of friends entitled “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal,” which included a video showing African tribesmen dancing in a village. This video is, reportedly, very popular in the white supremacist community and has been posted at the Neo-Nazi Stormfront website. One of his friends called him a racist. Paladino emailed back,”Holy shit, run, ni##ers, run.”
Buffalo Public Schools is responsible for the education of 35,000 students, almost all economically-disadvantaged and minority, failed by the traditional system for decades. The most recent student outcome data, released just last week, shows that graduation rates at one high school (Burgard) is 49% and two schools are in receivership, which means that conditions are so dire that they are subject to take-over or closure.
Yet even substantive efforts at improvement can be derailed by one crackpot school board member. Commissioner Elia should remove him quickly. Palandino has the right to appeal — if history is any guide, he will; just recently he dismissed critics’ comments as ramblings of “pathetic heathens” — but Elia should not hesitate to remove this human-shaped impediment to progress.
Paulette Woods, one of the six board member who voted for the resolution to ask Paladino to resign, said, “[i]f any of our Buffalo Public School children said any one of these offensive remarks … the student would be suspended. We should also be held accountable for our words and our actions.”
On Tuesday at a parent and community rally demanding Paladino’s resignation, Lorna C. Hill said, “we consider Mr. Paladino’s recent remarks regarding President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to be not only inappropriate in public discourse, but damaging to the psyche of all children, especially African-American children, who were not shielded from his vile diatribe.”
It’s time for Paladino to find another venue for his idiocy. Preferably somewhere far, far away from schoolchildren.