Buffalo Schools Superintendent Pamela C. Brown held on to her job Tuesday by just one vote among the nine members of the School Board.
The board voted, 5-4, to defeat board member Carl Paladino’s resolution to terminate Brown without cause. As a result, she keeps her position as head of the largest school district in Western New York, though the vote reflects a lack of confidence by nearly half of the governing body to which she answers.
Board members Paladino, James Sampson, Jason McCarthy and John Licata voted for her dismissal, while President Barbara Seals Nevergold and members Sharon Belton-Cottman, Florence Johnson, Mary Ruth Kapsiak and Theresa Harris-Tigg voted against it. Prior to the vote, Brown made an impassioned speech regarding her tenure.
She noted her excitement in coming to the district, the severe problems she discovered and the many efforts she has made to improve the district since her hiring a year ago. “I said, ‘This is a call to action,’ ” Brown said. “ ‘We must put forth our best effort.’ ”
She added, “Instead of all the infighting and disagreement and all of this, we should be acknowledging the progress we’ve made in this district.”
Those in favor of the resolution, however, said they can’t wait for Brown “to develop the skills the district needs to move forward successfully.” They said the district’s children don’t have time to wait for Brown to develop those leadership skills.
“Despite what many think, I don’t bring this motion lightly,” Paladino said, but he added that the district needs leadership and that the systemic problems facing it are so bad that the board can’t afford to give Brown more time. “The Buffalo School System is in such distress that we can’t wait for on-the-job training. We can’t wait for her to learn. We can’t wait for her to be a leader,” he said.
While Brown has a core base of support among some community groups, including many who believe she has made considerable progress during her one-year tenure so far, school district leadership has come under fire from the district’s parent activist group as well as from state education officials.
Belton-Cottman and others who voted against dismissing Brown said she hasn’t been given a fair shake, that she has made progress and deserves more time. “This superintendent has been abused, and she’s been abused on several levels,” she said.
Board member Harris-Tigg agreed, saying the debate over whether Brown should stay or go is a “sideshow” hurting children in the classroom. “It’s a distraction, and it’s inexcusable,” she said.
Board member Kapsiak called the attempts to fire Brown a “witch hunt” and said that the board members trying to dismiss Brown are hearing from disgruntled employees who don’t offer a truthful picture of the progress the district has made.
By agreement, each board member spoke only once before the vote was taken.
In other business, the board voted for a two-week delay in taking action to terminate the employment of consultant Mary Guinn.
Guinn, a “leadership coach” overseeing the district’s central office reorganization, earns $290,359 (excluding travel expenses) as part of a $432,000 contract with Cross and Joftus.
Sampson submitted a resolution to terminate the Cross and Joftus contract at the end of December, according to the contract’s terms.
But after a closed-meeting session of the board, he said the district’s process for hiring the consulting company may have been so flawed that Buffalo does not have a legally binding contract with Cross and Joftus.
Legal counsel needs more time to research the matter, he said.
If the contract with Cross and Joftus is binding, Sampson said he will reintroduce his resolution to terminate it.
The board also voted on a transparency resolution sponsored by Sampson to move the board meetings out of City Hall and into public schools. The board voted 8-1 to approve an amended resolution to move only the first regular board meeting of each month into schools.
The resolution also calls for meetings to be live-streamed on the board’s website and for all meeting agendas and all related, nonconfidential information to be posted in advance on the district’s website. The board approved up to $50,000 to purchase the equipment to make this happen.