Is she kidding? The superintendent who only last month promised more transparency in overseeing the Buffalo School District instead resorted to subterfuge Wednesday night, blindsiding at least some members of the School Board to win a vote she would have won anyway, had she operated in an aboveboard manner. More and more, Pamela Brown is demonstrating for all to see that she lacks not only the skills but the temperament to lead this failing district out of the wilderness.
The strategy was typical of a player who isn’t up to dealing with an opposition. When Wednesday’s School Board meeting was nearly over, and after all the news media but The Buffalo News had left, Brown exploded a dirty bomb.
During an executive session, after all regular business was completed, Brown announced that she wanted to hire Mary Guinn as interim deputy superintendent, only months after the board voted to dismiss her as a high-paid consultant. Afterward, the board voted 5-3 in open session to hire Guinn at an annual salary of $175,000. The vote broke along the usual racial and gender lines. Board member Jason McCarthy was absent, but in the past was critical of Guinn’s work as a consultant.
No one should begrudge Brown a capable assistant. Any leader needs a strong No. 2, especially in an organization as unwieldy as the Buffalo School District. But Brown has needed more than that. She has been in over her head since day one, a fact recognized not only by her critics on the board, but in the business community, whose leaders tried last year to buy her out of her contract.
Superintendents should be allowed to hire the people they want to help them achieve their goals, and if Brown believes Guinn is the right person, at least on an interim basis, then her opinion should carry significant weight. That’s not the problem. Indeed, the Buffalo School Board’s history has been to micromanage the district, which – assuming the board hired a superintendent it trusts – is a disservice to the individual and the organization.
The problem, as Board member James Sampson observed, is that the secretive maneuver was poor governance, and nothing justifies that, regardless of how often this board employs it. The board is bitterly divided, and no one would have expected a unanimous vote on this matter or even a pleasant discussion, but good practice calls for the entire governing body to have notice about a vote of such significance. Call it transparency.
Most puzzling is that the vote would have carried if there had been advance notice. The discussion would have been more heated and would have taken longer, but Guinn’s supporters hold the majority. It was a foolish and unnecessary maneuver that further eroded Brown’s stature.
In a press conference Thursday, Brown laid the blame for the sneak attack on Board President Barbara Nevergold. Brown should have refused to go along, or at least to have notified the entire board of the plan. As it played out, several board members and thousands of their constituents were cheated of the opportunity to publicly air the proposal to hire Guinn. Nevergold, meanwhile, hung her superintendent out to dry, hardly a month after Brown told reporters, “I just want to demonstrate, through transparency, exactly what the situation is in our schools.”
The situation, at least on Wednesday, was deception, artifice and trickery. It was a bad moment in a bad year.