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NOT CONTENT to force the hiring of two political cronies for top jobs last year, the faction of the Buffalo school board that appears more concerned with patronage and money than education is at it again.

The result: Superintendent Albert Thompson could be left hostage to top aides selected by board members whose only proven qualifications are getting their supporters to the polls.

The board votes ordering Thompson to advertise for applicants for one associate superintendent's job and lowering the requirements for another -- a move that makes it easier to hire a less qualified person -- deny the superintendent the right to pick the aides he can best work with to run the schools effectively.

If the board had so little faith in Thompson's judgment, it erred by making him superintendent in the first place. But having wisely appointed him to the top spot, it's unfair to Thompson, to district students and to the taxpayers to saddle him with a staff not of his own choosing.

It is unfair to the superintendent because he will get the blame when things go wrong, even though it is the board that is moving more and more into administrative areas and tying his hands. This usurpation effectively strips him of much of his authority to run the system.

Just who will these aides respond to when they know they were chosen not by Thompson, but by a faction of the board that could be at odds with what the superintendent is trying to accomplish? It is a prescription for administrative gridlock, for which the board faction undoubtedly will then blame Thompson.

The board's intrusion into the superintendent's domain also harms the district. It lessens chances that top aides will be hired based on skill alone. By removing from the job description the requirement that the associate superintendent in charge of buildings be an architect or engineer, the board has watered down the qualifications in a way that makes it easier to select a political hack.

What student, teacher or taxpayer would gain from that? Given the district's pressing construction and renovation needs, the prospect of a neophyte in this position is anything but reassuring.

Once this faction of the board settles on its appointees to these key posts, it risks putting Thompson in an untenable position. Then he must choose between saying he likes the people imposed on him, or risk alienating both those who hired him and the new appointees he will have to depend on to carry out administration tasks.

All this should puzzle Buffalonians. Is their School Board more interested in supporting their own chosen top executive, or in undermining him?

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