WNY Students First commends the Clarence School District for its recent initiatives aimed at supporting the mental health of students following months of parent advocacy.
While WNY Students First has been critical of many school districts in Western New York, including Clarence, for not doing enough to advocate for the safe reopening of schools, the organization is encouraged to see that many school districts are finally starting to address the educational gaps and mental health issues that have arisen during the COVID pandemic. Students have suffered greatly in the last year; in hindsight, this seems to have been without reason. Teachers and mental health experts will be essential in correcting the impacts of COVID to all students and their work has never been more important.
In addition, WNY Students First recognizes that the Clarence School District has had a long and impressive track record of academic excellence due in part to the hard work that has been done by many teachers in Clarence, both during the pandemic and prior.
Nonetheless, it is important for all school boards, including those of higher achieving school districts, such as Clarence, to meet basic governance standards. Indeed, the last year has shown just how critical school boards are in supporting the education and well-being of students.
To that point, WNY Students First has discovered a number of governance concerns at the Clarence Board of Education, from reducing opportunity for public comment to unacceptable conduct during Board of Education meetings. However, all of those things pale in comparison to what took place before the Board of Election vote in May.
Through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, WNY Students First has uncovered that Board Member Dennis Priore used his official, district-provided board of education email to solicit votes for his election, by emailing PTO leadership to ask for their votes and encouraging them to forward on the message.
NYSSBA bylaws state that:
“School board members who wish to express their personal opinions about issues before the voters must not use district funds, facilities or channels of communication to encourage voters to vote in support of or against the school budget or any proposition”
Several other board members were part of this unlawful electioneering. Board leaders Michael Fuchs and James Boglioli were both blind copied on these emails.
These board members must answer to the community for their breach of ethics, trust, and privilege. Board of education members are meant to be public servants and public leaders. WNY Students First continues to investigate Dennis Priore's abuse of power:
The misappropriation of school district assets to influence elections, the efforts to reduce community engagement, and the Code of Ethics violations, when taken together, demonstrate a concerning pattern by specific board members to put their own personal gain ahead of the school district's students. These governance failures need to be addressed before they have a more adverse impact on our children.