The Buffalo Board of Education filled two critical vacancies in the school district's administration Wednesday by appointing associate superintendents to oversee finance and instruction.
Rajni Shah, the new finance head, has held the assistant superintendent's post in the district's budget department since May. Shah is widely regarded as one of the state's top experts on urban school district finance and previously held the top finance post in the Rochester school system.
Prior to coming to Buffalo, he was a consultant to the City of Rochester on school budget issues, and for the past five years he has been an adviser to the state Education Department on how financial policies affect school systems.
Shah's expertise is so respected that the state has more than once revised or withdrawn a policy based on his recommendation alone, said James A. Kadamus, the State Education Department's deputy commissioner for elementary and secondary education.
Marion Canedo, who retired from the district as assistant superintendent for standards and teaching effectiveness in June, is returning as the new associate superintendent for instruction. A nationally known expert on early childhood education and curriculum, Ms. Canedo most recently helped develop Buffalo's Comprehensive District Education Plan, an ambitious volunteer effort with the state Education Department that suggests ways Buffalo schools can improve performance.
She said she plans to apply for the superintendent's job.
The instruction post was vacated last spring when the previous associate superintendent, Ronald O'Brien, retired. The finance post was previously held by Barbara Fargo, who resigned in July rather than face disciplinary charges for her role in the district's failure to file timely reimbursement applications for $8.9 million in state aid.
The board voted 7-2 on Ms. Canedo, with Florence D. Johnson of the Ferry District and the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, an at-large member, opposing. Mr. Pridgen was the only opposing vote on Shah's appointment. Both Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Pridgen said their votes were protests against the selection process used to fill the vacancies, not against the individuals filling the vacancies.
The previous School Board had planned to use a panel of community leaders in the selection process for both positions, but the current board, which was seated in July, decided to scrap that plan and move quickly on its own to fill the vacancies.
A recent decision by Superintendent James Harris not to seek a renewal of his contract next July made the matter more pressing, board President Paul G. Buchanan said.
Both appointments are for two years instead of the usual four because the board expects to have a new superintendent on board by the end of two years.
Shah has been the acting superintendent of finance since Ms. Fargo's departure. Yvonne Hargrave, the district's assistant superintendent for student services, school operations and leadership, was appointed by Harris to also serve as the acting superintendent for instruction following O'Brien's departure.
Mrs. Hargrave decided not to seek a permanent appointment to the instruction post.
The finance post is considered especially important right now because a draft state audit released in June sharply criticized the district for poor financial management. The final version of the audit is expected to be released this fall.
"I've worked with Rajni for a very long time," said Georgia Asciutto, executive director of the conference of Big 5 School Districts. "He is probably one of the most highly qualified school business officials in the state of New York."