City residents will have a say in the selection of their next school superintendent, through an advisory committee and a series of public forums.
That was the consensus of the Buffalo Board of Education on Wednesday night in its first discussion of the best way to pick a successor to James Harris.
The board will rely on the same method it used to choose Harris four years ago:
A selection of candidates screened through a search firm.
A review of the applications by a citizen advisory committee with a recommendation to the board.
Board interviews of a group of about eight applicants.
Visits to the home districts of the finalists.
Public question-and-answer forums before the selection is made.
The board also did not rule out considering non-traditional candidates who might have either corporate or military experience instead of an educational background. Several districts across the country have hired superintendents from non-educational backgrounds, sometimes with mixed results.
Central District Member Jan Peters did not object to the idea but urged caution.
"What's the track record with non-traditionals?" she asked. "From what I hear, they don't last. It's sexy-sounding -- 'Get the general in' -- but does it produce anything?"
Harris sat impassively through the first 10 minutes of the discussion and then quietly gathered his belongings and left the meeting without offering any public explanation. James M. Kane, Harris' executive assistant, made light of the departure, saying that the superintendent is willing to help the board with the search in any way he can.
Harris announced during the Aug. 25 board meeting that he would not seek a renewal of his contract when it expires in July. The announcement forestalled an almost-certain vote against renewing the contract that the board had expected to take later that night.
Harris is a finalist for the superintendent's post in Traverse City, Mich., and will be one of three candidates returning there in the next few weeks for a second interview.
The date has not been set, said Carl Hartman, a spokesman for the Traverse City School Board. The district hopes to pick a new superintendent in October.
Traverse City School Board members and administrators visited Buffalo two weeks ago to speak to people who have worked with Harris. The board decided to bring all three finalists back for second interviews during a meeting Monday, Hartman said.
The other finalists are Jack Gyves, a curriculum consultant and former superintendent from California, and Michael Murray, principal of the East Junior High School in Traverse City.
The Buffalo board expects to spend the next six to nine months looking for a new superintendent, if it follows the schedule used to pick Harris.
Although board members all agreed Wednesday that city residents must have strong input in the decision, they also said the public -- including public officials and members of the business community -- must remember that it is the board that hires the superintendent.
West District Member Anthony J. Luppino said the board must reserve the right to start over if it cannot agree on a selection from among the finalists. If that happens, he said, the board would be better off appointing an interim superintendent than selecting a candidate who may not last.
School Board Vice President Jack Coyle echoed those comments, reminding his fellow board members that although public comment weighs heavily in the decision, the board carries full responsibility for the decision.
"Everybody wants to vote on who the next superintendent is," Coyle said. "And unfortunately, we ask really, really influential people to get involved, and they think they've got a vote."