Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said Monday that she never entertained accepting a half-million-dollar buyout offer from a group of business leaders who were trying to entice her to resign.
Brown made the announcement during a rare news conference the day after The Buffalo News reported on the offer.
The superintendent would not directly answer questions about how the offer was made or who was involved in the discussions. She also would not respond to questions about the motives of people making the offer.
Instead, Brown reiterated that she never considered taking the deal.
Joined by School Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold in her City Hall office, Brown said she continues to focus her attention on improving outcomes for Buffalo students.
“I have never contemplated such an offer,” Brown told the media. “I’m keeping my focus on the children. And I’d encourage everyone else to do so.”
The superintendent also cited examples of progress she said she has made during her tenure. Among those accomplishments, she said, were a decrease in both short-term suspensions and chronic absenteeism, and an increase in both student enrollment and graduation rates.
Brown also said she is happy to talk with community leaders, including those behind the buyout offer, to figure out ways to best use their energy to serve the community.
“People with fistfuls of money who claim to have the best interest of children at heart should go directly to the students and families with that offer,” she said.
Meanwhile, one of Brown’s biggest critics, School Board member Carl P. Paladino, said he was planning to bring two resolutions before the board at next week’s meeting:
• To call for the entire board to resign and ask the state to appoint a special master to take control of the Buffalo Public Schools.
• To fire Brown.
Paladino acknowledged it is unlikely that either resolution will gain support from his colleagues. In September, he led an effort to oust Brown, but his proposal was defeated in a 5-4 vote.
“That’s obviously going nowhere, but it will open up the floor for some dialogue,” Paladino said. “It will give me some time to talk about things.”
The buyout offer underscores months of tensions and politics surrounding the Buffalo schools, which have been facing pressure from all levels, from local parent groups to top state leaders.
During her news conference, Brown repeatedly said that her future with the district should lie with one group alone: the elected School Board that hired her.
And at least one board member agreed.
“This really is a board decision,” said board member James M. Sampson, one of the four who voted to oust Brown in September. “That’s really where the focus should be. Not on some backroom deal.
“But it’s Buffalo, and that’s how we do things.”
The proposed buyout, which is believed to be on the table for a limited time, is for $500,000. Part of that money would come from the school district, as her contract stipulates that she receive a year’s salary if dismissed without cause with more than a year left on her contract.
The School Board would need to approve that payment. The rest of the buyout money would come from private sources.
Brown earns $217,500 a year, and her contract runs through July 2015.
Even as some community leaders are pushing for Brown’s swift departure, others are rallying to support her.
Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, said she feels that some people in town have been out to get Brown since before she started. The animosity from those opponents, Grant said, started when they did not get their choice for superintendent, referring to those wanted to hire then-interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon on a permanent basis.
“She came in, she’s qualified, and most people in Buffalo want to give her a chance,” Grant said of Brown. “She needs to be allowed to do her job without these outside distractions.”