Pamela C. Brown remains Buffalo’s school superintendent, but only by the skin of her teeth. She has lost the support of nearly half the School Board and, we suspect, about the same proportion of community residents.
Brown on Wednesday survived an effort to fire her “without cause.” The resolution, offered by board member Carl Paladino, fell short in a 5-4 vote. Brown’s supporters said she needs more time, but Paladino and the three members who voted with him had the better argument: Buffalo students don’t have the time to provide Brown with the on-the-job training she needs.
But she survived, so the question is, what now? She is politically hobbled by the public lack of support on the School Board and in the community. It is possible she can survive that, but at what cost to Buffalo’s students and, beyond that, to the city’s economic health? Families don’t want to move into a city where most of the schools are failing.
That’s why Brown should take her cue and begin looking for other opportunities. Yes, she says graduation rates have risen, but the state has yet to complete an audit of the district’s numbers. If the rate truly did go up, that would be wonderful, but it’s hard to see how Brown recovers from the loss of confidence in her ability to lead an organization as sprawling and complex as the Buffalo School District.
Indeed, it is easy to have some sympathy for Brown. Her job is probably the most difficult one in all of Western New York. That’s why it takes someone with specific skills and background – someone with a history of successful leadership in troubled school districts. Brown doesn’t have that, and it shows.
Easily the most troubling aspect of Wednesday’s vote is the false claim of racism it has produced. The vote unfortunately split along racial lines, with the School Board’s five African-American members supporting Brown, who is also African-American, and its four white members voting to fire her.
Paladino has drawn complaints of racism in the past, due to vile emails he forwarded, but there has been no plausible suggestion of racism in the way he has conducted himself on the School Board. And none of the other three white members has shown any signs of racism in his conduct, either.
What is more, two prominent African-Americans influential in the district have expressed severe frustration with the district’s leadership. One of them, John B. King Jr., is New York State’s commissioner of education. The other, Samuel Radford, is president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. Alone, those critics defeat the claim that opposition to Brown’s leadership is somehow automatically racist.
It’s a dirty shame, and those claiming a racial motivation to the effort to remove Brown aren’t doing the district or its students any favors. Those critics need to operate from a higher place.
In the end, the Buffalo School Board has voted for more of the same. Unless Brown is going to find her own way out the door, that leaves parents, students and taxpayers with little more than the hope that she can accelerate her learning curve to quickly become the superintendent that Buffalo desperately needs.
In the meantime, students are failing.