A consultant for the Buffalo Public Schools who left the district two weeks ago amid controversy may be appointed as the district’s second-in-command.

Superintendent Pamela C. Brown has said she would like to hire Mary E. Guinn as the district’s interim deputy superintendent, according to some School Board members.

It appears that Brown would be able to appoint her without board approval, based on state education law, because the district has earmarked money in the budget for the position of deputy superintendent.

But Guinn’s appointment faces some hurdles, including lingering complications from her consultant contract and her lack of New York State certification as a district administrator.

Though Brown has expressed an interest in seeing Guinn assume the interim deputy superintendent position, Guinn would have to agree to take the job and, if interested, would have to find a way to extricate herself from her current position as a subcontractor with the Cross & Joftus education consulting firm based in Maryland.

Guinn began serving as interim deputy superintendent in March, although she was not employed directly by the district. Her salary as a consultant with Cross & Joftus was covered by private grants from the Oishei Foundation, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and Say Yes to Education.

Her responsibilities included assisting in the search for a permanent deputy superintendent. While the district interviewed a number of applicants, the superintendent did not hire any of them.

Instead, Brown asked Guinn to stay in the district as a consultant and agreed to pay her $290,359 – $72,000 more than the superintendent makes – for one year, plus travel and lodging expenses.

Brown and her board supporters said she was not paid any more than the going rate for education consultants, though Guinn worked in a full-time position in the central office.

This fall, Guinn came under increasing criticism for both her salary and her role in the district. Board members expressed concerns that she seemed to be assuming responsibilities for daily operations of the district that would fall beyond the role of a consultant.

Cross & Joftus asked to withdraw from its year-long contract with the school district two weeks ago, but ending the relationship with the consulting firm and providing payment to the company for services already rendered now appears to be more difficult than first anticipated, board members said.

The board voted at its last meeting to scrap its current contract with Cross & Joftus and its consultant, Guinn. But the board also agreed to have the superintendent draft a new, short-term contract with the same firm to ensure a smooth transition before Cross & Joftus exits the district.

At that time, Brown was noncommittal about Guinn having a continuing role with the district.

In a prior interview with The News, consulting firm president Scott Joftus said a lot of misinformation existed regarding Guinn’s role in the search for a permanent deputy superintendent.

He said the search for a deputy superintendent was conducted by an interview team that included representatives from HealthNow, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, the district’s human resources director and chief financial officer and the superintendent.

Guinn was also on the interview committee, but as a nonvoting member, Joftus said.

“She was playing a supporting role, but it was not her decision,” Joftus said regarding the selection process.

Guinn began her career in 1977 as a speech and language development specialist at a Head Start program in Arkansas, then worked as a speech pathologist in a school for a few years before becoming the principal of an elementary school in Little Rock.

She went on to hold a number of administrative positions in various districts in Louisiana before being named superintendent in Gary, Ind., a district about half the size of Buffalo. She held that post for six years, until 2004, when the board there voted not to renew her contract, citing declining test scores as a factor in the decision.

She then worked as a deputy superintendent in Tulsa, Okla., a district about the size of Buffalo. After five years there, she lost her job in a restructuring. Private donors provided the $188,000 to buy out her contract.

Guinn then worked for three years as a “deputy superintendent/consultant” in Falcon, Colo., through 2012, according to her resume. News reports from February 2011 indicate that she was in line to become the district’s chief education officer, but she irked school board members by asking for a raise for taking a job that would have involved fewer responsibilities.

In July 2011, Guinn was named head of school at a charter school in New Orleans. Her resume indicates she held that position until June 2012. However, a news report published on March 29, 2012, indicated she had resigned. Her boss in the charter school network told a reporter at the time that he and the charter school board had doubts about the school’s goals under Guinn’s leadership.

Guinn holds a bachelor’s in speech pathology and psychology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; a master’s in special education from the University of Central Arkansas; and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

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