Sunday, May 10, 2015

Let the Search Begin!

Last week the Board majority decided to launch a search for the next superintendent of the Buffalo School System.  That decision comes nearly two months after the Board’s minority proposed and advocated for a search and barely a week after the vociferous objections of the community to the plan to appoint Principal James Weimer, without a search, to the position.  It also appears to be no coincidence that this change of heart comes on the heels of legislation submitted by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes that would greatly change the leadership of the District. 

If successful, the new law would give authority to Mayor Brown to recruit, hire and supervise the Superintendent.  He’d also be empowered to dismiss current Board members and appoint 9 new members of his choosing.  In effect, this legislation would eliminate local control and undermine the democratic process of an elected school board.  There is still a lot to learn about the model of mayoral control that the Assemblywoman and the Mayor envision, but few of us see the value of governmental takeover and question the “reform” philosophy that under-girds it.  While there are many questions as yet unanswered, a principle one is whether the Assemblywoman will get the support she needs to move her bill forward.  With Albany politics being what they are, it remains to be seen how deals will be formed to reach this end goal.

As for the Board majority’s newly found determination to hold a search?  It’s likely the result of the community’s opposition, the Board minority’s systematic questioning of the exclusionary process used to select Mr. Weimer and the majority’s failure to identify the specific qualifications which warranted his appointment as Superintendent.  Larry Quinn, the spokesperson for the Board majority, plans to present a resolution at the May 13th Board meeting to conduct the search.  However, while this new found recognition of the Board’s responsibility to conduct a search appears sincere; the majority has refused to engage in a conversation to define the search process.  True to form, Mr. Quinn’s resolution demonstrates that the majority continue to plan outside of the full Board.  The resolution includes a pre-arranged public meeting to be held on May 21st.  He has already requested that the CAO organize this meeting in order to give “real parents” an opportunity to express their concerns to the Board.  Further Quinn claims that this will avoid the “circus atmosphere” of the last Board meeting.

The meeting, the date, and the organizers were all finalized without the knowledge, input or agreement of the Board’s minority.  Some things just don’t change.  Moreover Mr. Quinn’s message to parents and concerned citizens is that he’s still not interested in including parent or community involvement unless he can control who speaks.  He has expressed confidence that the search could be completed by June 1st.  He foresees Board members reaching out to people they know to apply for the job in addition to a job posting that will be widely published.  Mr. Quinn does not realize how unrealistic his timeline is or could there be another hand-picked individual waiting in the wings to take Mr. Ogilvie’s place?  Thus far, the actions of the majority while praised by the Buffalo News, do not engender trust and confidence that this search will be open and transparent. 
As of the publication of this article, attempts by the Board minority to have the Board meet to establish a timeline and set other parameters for a legitimate search process have been futile.  Board member Sharon Belton-Cottman drafted a document to initiate this discussion, but like the April 29th meeting, none of the majority members have responded.  Mr. Quinn has insisted that the job of selecting a superintendent is the purview of the Board.  We certainly agree with him on that.  In fact, we concur that the Board has the fiduciary obligation to do a diligent and thorough search for a new leader.  However, to do this the Board (all 9 members) has to agree to develop and implement an organized and comprehensive search process.

Here are a few of the key questions we have raised for Board discussion and decision:

  • ·         What time frame will we establish to guide the process from job posting, to selection of candidates, interviewing, vetting finalists, contract negotiations, setting start date?
  • ·         What experiences, competencies, credentials and evidence of successful educational management are we looking for?
  • ·         What questions will we develop to interview candidates?
  • ·         What criteria will we use to rate applicants to determine finalists?
  • ·         How will parent/community questions, concerns be incorporated into the process?
  • ·         In addition to the above, what will we require the applicants to present in order to demonstrate how they would address an issue impacting our district at the present time?
  • ·         What criteria will we use to rate applicants to determine the finalist?
  • ·         Once the finalist is selected, who will conduct contract negotiations?
  • ·         Start Date? Orientation and other phase in activities?

Undoubtedly there are questions that are not included in the foregoing.  However, what is critical now is that all members of the Board spend time developing the process and the timeline.  If “urgency” is indeed a critical factor in the selection of the next Superintendent, then majority Board members need to be willing to put in the time to ensure that the process produces the best candidate.  We Are!

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