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Paladino removed from Buffalo School Board by state education chief

Karen DeWitt
WBFO Albany Correspondent

Carl Paladino has been removed from the Buffalo Board of Education by the New York State Department of Education.

WBFO received official word from a state official in Albany. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia determined Paladino's "disclosed confidential information regarding collective negotiations under the Taylor Law, which he gained in the course of his participation as a Board member in executive session, and that his disclosures constituted a willful violation of the law, warranting his removal from office pursuant to state Education Law."

The Commissioner denied the three remaining applications calling for the removal of Paladino and all Board members and Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash on procedural grounds. The long-awaited decision by Elia followed a highly publicized hearing in Albany earlier this summer.

Frank Miller, the Attorney for the School Board, said “justice has been done.”

“The message has been sent,” Miller said. “No one, regardless of their station in life, is above the law.”

Larry Scott, co-chair of the Parent Teacher Organization said his group also is very pleased with the ruling.

"We are very relieved to hear that the Commissioner has made the right decision to make the removal of Mr. Paladino," said Scott, "and we feel that this is another huge step to move Buffalo Public Schools in the right direction, ensuring all of our children are receiving a quality education and access to all our district has to offer."

In a statement, Buffalo Democratic Assemblymember Sean Ryan said Paladino’s actions were "indefensible."

"Commissioner Elia did the right thing and I thank her for removing Carl Paladino from the School Board," said Ryan. "The students of the Buffalo School District deserve a great education and deserve to have leaders on the School Board who are working in their best interests."

The sentiment was echoed by the New York State United Teachers.

“Commissioner Elia made the right decision," the teachers union said in a statement. "There is absolutely no place in public education for someone who flagrantly disregards the rules and spouts disgusting, racially charged ideas that harm students and the teaching environment.”

Credit WBFO Albany Correspondent Karen DeWitt
Carl Paladino listens to testimony during his Albany hearing this summer.

Elia rejected Paladino’s contention that he was trying to get information about fraud and corruption within the Board out to the media. Paladino also is banned from seeking re-election to the Board for a year.

WBFO has reached out to Paladino for comment, but he has not returned our calls.  WBFO News did reach Paladino's attorney, Dennis Vacco.  Vacco said he is "disappointed" and is call this a "bad day for Buffalo Public Schools."

"He is being punished for pulling the curtain back on the means and process as to how the Buffalo Teachers Federation manipulated this Board of Education to arrive at a budget-busting contract," said Vacco, "and that is what Carl's getting removed for and that's why I said it's a sad day."

Vacco said he thinks removal was “excessive” to remove a “twice elected public official,” but was "uncertain" from the decision if the removal is immediate. Vacco said he is not prepared to talk about his next steps in the matter.

However, he said Elia’s decision was politically motivated. Vacco said it was “curious” that the decision came one day after a protest disrupted a Buffalo School Board meeting on Wednesday night, where he said demonstrators attempted to “link” the violence in Charlotteville, VA to Paladino.

“I’ve been around long enough to understand that there’s always a tinge of politics in any administrative decision,” Vacco said.

School Board member Larry Quinn, who has been a supporter of Paladino, told WBFO he is disappointed, but not surprised by the decision.

"I don't know the basis of her decision, but I always kind of felt that NYSED had taken over, so I expected that there'd be this kind of decision," Quinn said. "I think Carl's done a lot of good for the School Board and I think a lot more than some other people on the Board."

School Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold was scheduled to meet with reporters at City Hall late this afternoon. A school district spokesperson said, "We will hold all statements until that time."

During the five-day hearing, the state heard testimony in response to a School Board petition on behalf of six Board members who called for his removal. They say he violated Board rules when he revealed private discussions from an executive session about the teachers’ contract and it was printed in Artvoice.  

“I think the ramifications of this are very serious," said Jay Worona, General Counsel for the New York State School Boards Association. "I think board members are expected to keep confidential information – actually it protects the public.” 

Worona said Elia upheld the law.

“There’s consistency, there’s conformity, and we’re pleased about that,” he said.

Original calls to remove him all stem from Paladino's racist remarks made in December against the Obamas in an Artvoice article. Paladino admitted he wrote the comments, but claimed his First Amendment rights for free speech.

“But the only reason they’re concerned about the so-called violation of confidentiality is because they are upset with what he said, so that’s his defense,” Worona remarked.

Elia found that Paladino did not prove that he was subjected to retribution from the board, and wrote there is “no evidence” that his right to free speech was “chilled or otherwise impaired.”

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