The Buffalo School Board’s attempt last week to override the superintendent on several key personnel decisions has backfired – which some board members attributed to a lack of solid legal advice at the time of the vote.
A majority of board members voted last week to grant tenure to an assistant principal – whom the superintendent sought to fire – and five principals – whose probationary period the superintendent sought to extend by a year, rather than granting them tenure now.
But the board learned this week that, as it turned out, those votes actually would have had the opposite effect – and all six administrators would have been terminated.
“The board wasn’t properly informed about the procedure we were voting on,” said Jason McCarthy, the board’s vice president of executive affairs. “I am just so mad about it. We thought we were slapping the superintendent’s hand, but it turns out we were the ones who were wrong.”
The board last week found itself in an unusual situation. A majority of the board members took issue with those half-dozen personnel decisions by Superintendent Pamela C. Brown. It is rare for a board to seek to overturn such decisions.
Board members who were in opposition said they primarily objected to the process that was used. The administrators in question weren’t given enough information about the reasons they were being denied tenure after the standard three-year period, board members said, and some of the decisions seemed arbitrary.
So in a split vote, the board overrode Brown on those six decisions. Technically, the board voted not to extend the tenure of principals at North Park Middle Academy, Hillery Park Elementary, Dr. Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School 90 and Hamlin Park.
And for the assistant principal at East High School, the board voted against the denial of tenure.
Board members thought that such a move would result in the principals being granted tenure – but that wasn’t the case. Instead, all six people would have been terminated.
Some, like McCarthy, complained that the district’s legal counsel, who is out on bedrest while she is pregnant with triplets, has not been in touch with those on her staff, leaving the other attorneys working for the district not adequately informed.
“We weren’t even given a proper legal opinion,” McCarthy said of the board meeting on Aug. 21.
“I asked, for those five principals, what would happen if we did not accept the superintendent’s recommendation, and we were told they would be granted tenure,” said James Sampson, who represents the West District.
Board President Barbara A. Nevergold this week saw it differently, saying the onus rested with the board.
“I think the board acted without knowledge,” she said. “I don’t think the board asked the right questions. Therefore, the board made an error. I think the board should accept that responsibility.”
Since that meeting, the board called on an outside attorney, Karl Kristoff of Hodgson Russ, for advice on the matter. He consulted with them for more than an hour in executive session during Thursday’s special meeting.
To avoid having the principals terminated, the board voted unanimously this week to rescind their votes from last week. That means that instead of getting tenure now, those principals will come before the board at its next meeting for a one-year extension of their probationary period.
And the assistant principal at East will be terminated.
“We’re not getting things right,” Sampson said. “When we take actions as a board, we’re not doing it the right way.”