Consulting firm stops work, asks to withdraw Buffalo Public Schools contract - The Buffalo News

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Consulting firm stops work, asks to withdraw Buffalo Public Schools contract

The consulting firm whose contract with Buffalo Public Schools has drawn criticism because of its cost has stopped its work for the district.

Consultant Mary Guinn and her employer, Cross & Joftus, stopped work Tuesday after the company submitted a letter to Superintendent Pamela Brown, requesting to withdraw its contract with Buffalo schools, President Scott Joftus said.

“We believe that our presence there has just become a distraction,” Joftus said. “And we hope that by withdrawing, it will enable them to continue working to improve the support for schools and children.”

The company, which was hired to help with the district’s central office reorganization, held a one-year, $432,000 contract that was set to expire in June. Guinn was making $290,359.

Had the company not withdrawn its contract, it is likely the school board would have voted to terminate it at its meeting on Wednesday evening.

The contract and Guinn’s work drew concern from some Board of Education members because of its cost and the scope of the work Guinn was doing. Some board members questioned why she was signing district documents and presiding over the superintendent’s executive cabinet meetings. They also raised concerns over the cost of expenses related to the contract, including travel and lodging expenses for Guinn.

Board members last month considered voting to terminate the district’s contract with Cross & Joftus in December, but they delayed the vote in order to seek legal advice about whether the contract was valid and whether the district’s process for hiring the consulting firm was flawed.

The board was slated to receive an opinion at Wednesday night’s meeting from outside education lawyer Karl W. Kristoff. If the contract was deemed incomplete or invalid, the firm’s work with the district would likely have come to an abrupt end, according to board members.

Had the contract been considered valid, the board would have voted on a resolution by board member James Sampson to terminate the Cross & Joftus agreement under the contract terms, which would have allowed Guinn to continue work for the district until mid-January.

Joftus said the contract included a requirement that either side provide three months’ notice for termination but that has firm has offered to waive the notice period.

“What we’re saying is we’re willing to waive that requirement, assuming that we’re paid for all of our expenses incurred,” Joftus said.

Joftus said the company has not yet received a formal response from the district but that Guinn stopped her work for the district under the contract Tuesday.

Guinn was hired in March to serve as interim deputy superintendent for three months and to oversee the implementation of the superintendent’s central office reorganization. When no deputy was hired, Guinn remained on as a consultant under a one-year contract that was set to expire in June 2014. The contract covered the work of Guinn, Joftus and a company analyst.

Cross & Joftus help design and roll out the district’s “one-stop shop” support to schools in the district. That roll-out included coaching for the district’s four chiefs of school leadership and Brown’s cabinet members, as well as help designing protocols for the one-stop shops, Joftus said.

“We’re hopeful that the district can continue implementing the plan,” Joftus said. “Obviously, we believe that especially the role that Dr. Guinn was playing was an important one.”


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