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The Buffalo school district's top three administrators, including School Superintendent Albert Thompson, are currently working without contracts.

And the fourth major position, associate superintendent for finance, is vacant.

In a caucus before Wednesday's School Board meeting, members are expected to discuss a proposed $94,000-a-year contract for Thompson, who was appointed in an 8-1 vote more than five months ago. The board has hired a lawyer, James Schmit, to represent its interests. Thompson represents himself.

David B. Kelly, former board president, said Thompson's contract is not likely to win approval Wednesday .

"I don't anticipate any problems about the contract, but I don't anticipate the thing will be done Wednesday," said Kelly

Under the present situation, Thompson could find himself heading a $330 million-a-year system where none of his immediate assistants are his selections. The other two without contracts are associate superintendents, one for instructional services, the other for buildings.

Meanwhile, sources close to the board say Park District member James W. Comerford Jr. has given Thompson a choice between two male supervisors in place of Mary Elizabeth Dougherty, acting associate superintendent for instructional services.

The board has two opposing blocs, each usually casting a solid vote, plus three members who occasionally move from one side to the other.

Board President Judith Fisher and the other two women members -- Bettye Blackman, Ferry District, and Mozella Richardson, Central -- say Thompson should have the right to choose the associates. The selection power is vested in the board, they acknowledge, but because he must depend on them, Thompson should be allowed to choose.

The other bloc includes three politicians: Kelly, who is deputy county clerk; Comerford, who is vice president of Buffalo Enterprises Development Foundation, and at-large member John C. Doyle, who is personnel officer of the Buffalo Sewer Authority. They take the position that the board fills associate positions -- as the bylaws allow -- and that the superintendent can only make suggestions.

Victor J. Turchiarelli, West District, an unsuccessful candidate in the Democratic primary for Assembly, backs them on the associates issue. Frank J. Jager, East District, a retired teacher, has voted with the bloc on a couple of tentative votes. North District member Oscar Smukler, who is chairman of the Executive Committee, last week led the opposition to Thompson in seeking changes that would affect the three associate positions.

Similar divisions exist on the controversial teachers contract. The four politicians and Jager voted against the contract with its 35 percent wage increase. The women, all re-elected in 1989 with the help of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, supported it. The contract rejection is now the subject of a state Public Employment Relations Board hearing.

The candidate Thompson supports for associate superintendent of instructional services, Ms. Dougherty, was the longtime assistant to Joseph T. Murray, who recently retired from the post.

Last August, Thompson asked the board to appoint Ms. Dougherty, and he garnered the support of the three women and Smukler. But it takes five votes to appoint.

Comerford, who opposes Ms. Dougherty, told Thompson that he should nominate Joseph Gentile, a former high school principal who now holds Ms. Dougherty's old job, assistant superintendent in charge of high schools, two sources close to the board said.

Comerford told Thompson to take Gentile or face five votes for Mark Balen, former Lackawanna mayor and school superintendent, the sources said.

Balen, now principal of Burgard Vocational High School, is a longtime Lackawanna political leader. Smukler, who is a friend of Balen's, served as a Balen administration bonding attorney 20 years ago.

Balen was nominated for the instructional associate position earlier this year by Turchiarelli, who sought an Assembly position in a district that includes Lackawanna. That motion was referred to the Executive Committee.

And at the last board meeting, Comerford denied that he has specific candidates for any of the associate jobs.

A proposal to open up the position of associate superintendent for buildings also originated with Comerford. It calls for revising the qualifications so either a person with architectural and engineering degrees or a person with construction and management experience could apply. This will be voted on by the board after language is drafted.

Donald E. Gorey, whose six-year contract as associate superintendent of buildings ended 14 months ago, now works day-to-day. Shortly after his contract ran out, he agreed to take as an assistant Dennis Hayden, a former building inspector who managed Doyle's successful School Board campaign in May 1989.

Smukler proposed this week advertising for candidates to fill the job of associate superintendent for instructional services. Ms. Dougherty could also apply, he said.

Smukler also supports the political bloc in seeking to change qualifications for the associate superintendents for finance and buildings.

The political bloc wants to revise qualifications for the financial position so that it can go to either an educator with a superintendent's degree, as is required now, or a business person.

Thompson formerly held the finance post, and he wants to continue requirement of a superintendent's certificate. Kelly wants a chief business officer, with an accounting or business background, rather than an educator.

Mrs. Fisher and Mrs. Blackman condemn the move to create a business manager as an attempt to tailor job specifications so board members can appoint cronies.

Mrs. Fisher suggests that those who want alternative qualifications should make public the identities of friends they would like to hire.

"Why don't they provide us with names and resumes of people they want to have considered, and we'll write the specifications to suit the resumes?" she said.

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