It’s impossible to know if the rating given to Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown is legitimate or not. The School Board that conducted the evaluation of her first year on the job messed it up so badly as to make its favorable rating all but meaningless.
The board was a month late in completing the evaluation, and some members failed to explain why they gave low scores. When the report was finally approved last week, several board members hadn’t even read it.
It gets worse. Unbelievably, the board rated Brown on a three point scale, when the state requires use of a five-point scale. To convert the evaluation, the board recalculated her score, giving her a rating of 4.17 out of five instead of 2.5 out of three. The board’s math, at least, appears to be correct, unlike its procedures.
The board evidently gave no weight to the improper side deal that Brown cut with the Buffalo Teachers Federation on teacher evaluations. That maneuver threatens the district with the loss of millions of dollars in state aid. Surely that should count for something.
Some board members at least were honest about their failure. Jason McCarthy called it a “debacle.” John Licata observed, “The board didn’t do its job, period. I think we should take full responsibility for that.”
We agree, but full responsibility means acknowledging that the board, as constituted at the time, was in over its head. For that matter, it may still be. That’s not an insult – at least not necessarily so. Running a school district the size of Buffalo’s, with all the challenges of a poor city, is a job for experts.
It’s further evidence of the wisdom of Robert M. Bennett, a member of the State Board of Regents, who believes the state should impose higher standards for serving on a school board. As it stands, you need only to be 18 years old, a qualified voter in the school district and able to read and write. It’s not enough. Even the otherwise accomplished men and women who have served on this board can’t keep up with the demands.
Regarding future evaluations, at least, there is hope. McCarthy, the board’s new vice president of executive affairs, said he wants next year’s exercise to be “done right, open and in keeping with past practice.”
That sounds like a good starting place, but being open needs to mean something. Before the next school year even begins, the board needs to announce exactly how it plans to evaluate Brown and on what timetable. That way the public will have at least some chance of understanding what the board has done and whether Brown is meeting the test.