Almost a year ago, on July 6th, newly elected Board of Education President, James Sampson sent an email to all Board members. The subject of the email was “Executive Session – Interim Superintendent” and the message was as much a directive as it was informative. Board members were notified that the July 7th Board meeting would begin with an executive session at 4pm. Specifically, Mr. Sampson stated that this session was to review the following issues:
“I will be introducing a resolution at the regular business meeting that Donald Ogilvie be appointed immediately as interim superintendent. We will be reviewing his contract in Executive session. Karl Kristoff (Special counsel) will be present to review it with us…. Also, he (Ogilvie) can terminate the contract with 30 days’ notice as can the BOE.”
In a feeble attempt to justify what amounted to the high-jacking of the superintendent search and appointment process by the board majority, Mr. Sampson’s email offered the following rationale: “(although) the Board had known for two months that Dr. Brown was leaving on June 30th, little progress had been made in finding an interim Superintendent; with only two months before the beginning of the next school year there was much work to be done; there were many open positions to fill; and the urgency to have an Interim in place did not allow for an extended search process.” This sounds eerily like the conditions associated with the current Superintendent search dilemma.
Of course, Sampson omitted the fact that the decision to hire Mr. Ogilvie was made by the majority, in secrecy, without the knowledge or involvement of the board’s four minority members. No apologies were made for the blatant disrespect or the violation of Board By-laws. The majority, backed by the Special Counsel’s legal opinion that their actions were legitimate, engineered the appointment by virtue of their 5 votes. The height of their arrogance is demonstrated by the employment contract that Mr. Ogilvie signed on July 3rd, six days before the formal confirmation of his appointment.
Yet everything has not gone as planned beginning with the format of the July 7th meeting. The minority members refused to go into executive session to discuss Mr. Ogilvie’s appointment, out of sight and hearing of the public. After an extended discussion, aka debate, Mr. Ogilvie, who’d been waiting in the wings, was brought to the board room. He faced a blistering and confrontational “interview” by the minority members. His responses were diplomatic as he tried to put the best spin possible on a deplorable situation. But of all the questions raised and objections offered by the minority members, the one question that is etched in my memory was asked by Sharon Belton Cottman. She asked Mr. Ogilvie if he was his “own man”. He responded, emphatically, that he was and would not rubber stamp anyone else’s demands.
During this last year Mr. Ogilvie’s claim to being his own man has been tested on numerous occasions. His refusal to follow through on demands of majority members Paladino and Quinn led to conflicts and a rift that became public last April. In a strange twist, Paladino demanded Mr. Ogilvie’s resignation accusing him of “breaking his promises” and “betrayal”. Paladino continues to make his displeasure and disdain for Mr. Ogilvie evident in both verbal and written statements about Ogilvie’s failure to act and his lack of “gut”. Having lost on placing his first handpicked successor, the Emerson High Principal, in the office, Paladino has again announced his intention to appoint another principal to the vacancy. The community should be vigilant regarding this audacious plan to usurp the process.
Ironically as the relationship between Mr. Ogilvie and the majority was unraveling, his relationship with the board’s minority members was gaining in mutual respect and appreciation for his stance on some issues. A 40-year plus educational veteran, Mr. Ogilvie came to the Superintendency with a resume that included extensive experiences as a classroom and building educator and superintendent of several local school Districts before his tenure as the Superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES. He has a record of documented accomplishments. On more than one occasion, however, Mr. Ogilvie expressed his surprise about the steep learning curve that he found when he took the position.
He has acknowledged that Buffalo must tackle an array of complex tasks and juggle myriad state mandates to maintain viable educational opportunities for our students. This requires an individual with broad-based competencies, a history of accomplishments and an ability to work with diverse groups. During his tenure, Mr. Ogilvie’s knowledge of school management issues, staff relations, community relations, budget, bargaining units and state and federal regulations have been positive assets and made him equal to undertaking these daunting tasks. He is to be commended for his refusal to capitulate to Board majority members opposed to decisions that were prudent and based on sound educational judgement.
Over the last 12 months, I have had the opportunity to observe Mr. Ogilvie in action. I’ve had numerous conversations with him and have always expressed my opinions, directly and honestly. At the beginning of his tenure these opinions expressed my distrust of his motives and intentions regarding the future of this District. What I have come to believe is that Mr. Ogilvie is a professional; a man of integrity who has the intellectual ability, the learned competencies and the will to work in the best interests of the children of this District. His forced departure, after one year, is unfortunate and another blow to the stability of the District.
Mr. Ogilvie has chartered a reasonable and sensible course for the District that includes a Redesign Plan, a response to State mandates regarding “persistently struggling” schools and recommendations to comply with the Office of Civil Rights findings of Dr. Gary Orfield. It remains to be seen if after his departure the majority board members will stay the course or veer wildly off of it. His successor will have big shoes to fill.