A move to oust Superintendent Pamela Brown is expected to fall one vote short tonight on a bitterly divided Buffalo Board of Education.
In a sign of how fractious the board is, Brown’s supporters and critics can’t even agree on whether the split vote will undermine or motivate the superintendent as she tries to turn around the struggling district while knowing that half the board wants her out.
Brown has cited improvements in the district since she was appointed school chief in June 2012, including an increased graduation rate for 2013 and reductions in short-term suspensions and dropout rates. Her supporters cite the same improvements and say she needs more time to turn around the beleaguered district.
But board member Carl Paladino says the district doesn’t have time for Brown to train on the job, and he wants her out. Citing what he calls Brown’s incompetence and lack of management experience, Paladino plans to present a resolution that would dismiss her without cause – meaning he would not allege any misconduct – under the default provisions of her contract.
A telephone poll of board members indicated several anticipate that Paladino’s motion would get four votes on the nine-member board, leaving a divided board and Brown still in her job.
“Nobody is trying to hurt her. We’re trying to help the kids,” Paladino said. “This district is dysfunctional ... We’re refocusing the attention of the board on the children and off of this nonsense of political correctness and taking somebody and giving someone on-the-job training.”
Board member James Sampson said he intends to support Paladino’s motion. Board members John Licata and Jason McCarthy declined to say how they would vote on the issue, but both have been critical of the superintendent in the past.
Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold and member Mary Ruth Kapsiak said they would not support Paladino’s resolution. Members Florence Johnson and Sharon Belton-Cottman did not return repeated phone calls to comment, but both have been Brown supporters in the past.
A woman answering board member Theresa Harris-Tigg’s cellphone Tuesday asked what the call was about and said she would relay the message. She would not identify herself.
Supporters of Paladino’s resolution have not counted Harris-Tigg among those who would vote for it.
Impact of split vote
Late Tuesday, Brown said she recognizes that each of the nine board members has a philosophy about how to improve the district.
“I don’t think anyone would like to be in a position where he or she feels at risk of losing one’s job. It’s not an ideal situation, but ... I think I can’t always depend on the board agreeing unanimously on anything, and neither can any superintendent,” she said. “I respect everyone’s right to their opinion, and I know I’m capable of doing this job. I do it every day. As long as I am in this position, I will continue to do what I have to do.”
McCarthy, while not revealing how he will vote tonight, said a split vote would not be a glowing vote of confidence for Brown. “If I was the superintendent, I certainly wouldn’t want to be working on a board that is split ... Why would you want to put yourself through it?” he said.
Kapsiak had a different take. She said a split vote might motivate Brown to do a better job.
“I don’t think it will impact her because right now she’s focused. She knows what support she has,” she said. “I look at her the same way I look at myself.” A split vote “would make me want to do my job better. That’s my take. When people try to slander me and bring me down, it just gives me more energy to move forward.” Kapsiak said she believes that Paladino is on a “witch hunt.”
“Dr. Brown has only been here a year. You cannot turn a district around ... in a year,” she said, adding that there is an element of racism in Paladino’s effort.
“Carl has been going after the minority women on the board even before he got on the board, and he continues to do so. In my opinion, it’s a racist thing that he’s doing,” she said.
A $115,000 PR hire
Paladino has repeatedly called for Brown to resign or be dismissed with cause, contending that district consultant Mary Guinn and others perform all of Brown’s functions.
But at a recent board meeting, he agreed to withhold his motion calling for the superintendent to go, before eventually changing it to eliminate the “with cause” portion, which would involve showing some type of misconduct. His rationale for the change is “to get things over with quickly and get on with the business of education in this district.”
Brown currently makes $217,000 a year on top of a $10,000 bonus she received for a favorable review under the previous board.
Under the “no fault” portion of her contract, the board may terminate Brown but would have to pay her up to a year’s salary.
Brown has been under fire for her Comprehensive Improvement Plan and her plan to transfer some – but not all – students out of failing schools, both of which were rejected by the state. She also has drawn board criticism for her administrative reorganization plan and most recently for hiring former TV news reporter Lorey Schultz as a public relations specialist at a salary of $115,000.
Schultz’s salary would be in addition to the $82,000 the district already pays a media specialist.
Brown reportedly informed board members at a retreat Monday that if the board is willing to hire Schultz, she would no longer seek to fill the deputy superintendent’s position.
Schultz, who quit her job as a spokeswoman for Mayor Byron W. Brown, was supposed to start work Monday. However, her hiring now will come before the board tonight for a vote after members consulted with the district’s attorney at Monday’s retreat.
“I believe the appointment will be approved,” Brown said.
“I believe there is an understanding of the importance of our putting forth more efforts to make sure we are communicating effectively with our public and reaching out to various communities within the City of Buffalo. I believe there will be sufficient support. I certainly hope so.”
News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org