Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown says she saw no problems with transparency when she asked the School Board on Wednesday night to rehire a consultant as interim deputy superintendent.
Never mind that the former consultant – Mary E. Guinn – left on bad terms last fall when a majority of board members terminated her contract with the district.
Never mind that three board members said during the meeting Wednesday that they were blindsided and had no prior knowledge that Brown was going to try rehire Guinn.
And never mind that at least one parent and some other board members were upset that Brown brought up the matter at the end of the meeting, at about 9 p.m., when most spectators, parents, community leaders and all but one reporter had already left.
Brown said Thursday morning that hiring Guinn again was aboveboard in her eyes.
“I did not see it as a move that was not transparent,” she said.
But clearly some school officials, parents and community leaders see it differently, looking at the Guinn situation as yet another example of Brown’s lack of openness.
“That’s not right,” parent Steve Tomlins said of how Brown handled the matter. He was one of only a few people left in the audience when Brown presented her resolution Wednesday night to rehire Guinn.
Dwayne Kelly – normally a Brown supporter who regularly attends board meetings and speaks in support of the superintendent – was equally upset. He said the actions of the superintendent and the board members who voted in favor of rehiring Guinn have caused him to change his mind a bit about the group.
“I’m madder than hell. My issue was the way they did it. We never had a chance to consider Mary’s credentials,” Kelly said. “This is the second-most important position in the district. And we have the right as members of the community to weigh in on that decision. We – the public – got denied our opportunity to weigh in, to look at her credentials and to weigh in on the choice.
“If Carl Paladino had tried something like that, they’d be screaming bloody murder from one end of the block to the other,” he added, referring to one of the three board members who voted against rehiring Guinn. “I have been more than supportive of Dr. Brown. I have fought for this superintendent and to be blindsided like this … that does not make me happy.”
Board member James M. Sampson said there are important questions that Brown should ask herself regarding her decision to bring up the issue the way she did. “Is this the way we want to govern? Do we want to do it in such a way that is very close to secret? We bring it up at the very end when many people have left. She does this before a near-empty room with no discussion,” Sampson said.
The resolution, which passed in a 5-3 vote, called for the appointment of Guinn to the position of interim deputy superintendent for 90 days until June 30 at an annual salary of $175,000, to be prorated. She will not be reimbursed for expenses such as travel and lodging.
Guinn is expected to start next week, Brown said, adding that the reason she wanted to move now on hiring Guinn is to alleviate some of the additional load she and her staff have had to carry. And, she said, she used the same process that many of her predecessors did when they hired leaders to serve under them.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve essentially been doing double duty. I have had to ask other staff members to step up to the plate and take additional responsibility,” she said.
Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold, who supported Guinn, nonetheless expressed misgivings Thursday over how the vote for Guinn unfolded Wednesday night. She said neither she nor Brown knew that Guinn’s appointment would require a board vote until their attorney informed them it was necessary in a closed session at the end of the meeting. Had she known the board was required to take action, she said, she would have made sure that all the board members were aware of Brown’s plans in advance.
Even if a board vote had not been required, she added, she understands the public is upset that any announcement regarding the No. 2 administrator in the district was left until the very end of the meeting.
“I’ve talked to some people about that today,” she said. “I understand what the concern has been and what the anger has been about.”
Guinn was originally hired as a interim deputy superintendent in March 2013 for three months, although she was not directly employed by the district. Her employer was Cross & Joftus, education consulting firm, and grant money from Say Yes, the John R. Oishei Foundation and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo paid her salary. When the money dried up, Brown asked Guinn to stay in the district as a consultant and agreed to pay her $290,359 – $72,000 more than the superintendent makes – through June 2014, plus expenses for traveling and lodging. She was paid through other district grants.
Last fall, Guinn came under increasing criticism for both her salary and her role in the district. Board members had expressed concerns that she seemed to be assuming responsibilities for daily operations that went beyond her role as a consultant.
The School Board voted last October to terminate the Cross & Joftus contract but to keep Guinn on for 90 days to finish up her work with the district.
That’s why Brown is confused about why some board members are bringing up the issue of transparency, she said Thursday.
“They knew this has previously been a consideration,” she said.
News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org