Now that Mary E. Guinn is back with the Buffalo Public Schools as interim deputy superintendent, she will be walking into a hornet’s nest of issues.
She will be focusing on improving academic performance and attendance, as well as graduation and suspension rates.
She will have to jump immediately into the budget process to close a gap of $40 million to $50 million. And she will oversee the departments of finance, school leadership, curriculum and instruction, operations and what the district calls “talent management,” or human resources.
All of which raises a question: What will Guinn’s boss, Superintendent Pamela C. Brown, be doing?
Brown said Guinn’s return will free her up to get out more into schools and the community to engage with the public, teachers and principals, keep her finger “on the pulse on how things are going” and advance her vision of a “world-class education” for Buffalo students.
“I will get out in the community more to galvanize support of that vision and the five-year strategic plan,” Brown said during a news conference Tuesday in her City Hall office to reintroduce Guinn
“To continue my vision, I need a strong team, and Dr. Guinn will help lead the team. I want to reiterate that I stand by Dr. Guinn to come into the role of deputy superintendent, and I expect her to be effective in that role.
“She has the talent and experience for the job, particularly in urban schools.”
Monday, Guinn again began working in the district – for the third time – and met with Brown and staff. During Tuesday’s news conference, she said that coming back to Buffalo was a familiar feeling.
“This is déjà vu for me,” Guinn said. “It was this time last year that I stood before the Buffalo community as the interim deputy superintendent. I continued in a consultant role, and now, for the third time, I’m back.
“I feel fully entrenched again, and I’m ready to get to work.”
Guinn – amid the criticism swirling around her return – acknowledged that there were questions about the scope of work she did as a consultant, with board members expressing concerns that she was assuming responsibilities for daily operations that went beyond her advisory role.
“With the switching of roles, anyone would have had questions like that,” Guinn said, “… but there is no doubt my intentions were the right ones.
“I am aware of the concerns. However, I don’t recall anyone expressing concerns about my ability to do the work. I have worked with school boards all over the country.”
For her current employment with the district, Guinn will remain through June 30 and be paid a salary prorated from an annual figure of $175,000, which would mean about $58,333. And unlike the last time she worked for the district, Guinn will live in Buffalo for the time she is employed here, she said.
Her most immediate objective is working on the budget and closing a pretty hefty gap.
“We have upwards of a $40 million deficit,” Guinn said. “I’ve already looked at the budget with a team of people.”
Guinn also will be working closely with the district’s chiefs of school leadership, she said.
And even though she does not plan to stay on after the June 30 deadline, Guinn said that she plans to “outline” the work for the period of time she is here and that the work will continue after her departure. After all, she said, her career was built on setting up systems that lasted after she left her prior districts.
“That’s what I do. I set up systems, train people and then leave,” she said. “I come in to work with systems, prepare staff so work can continue.”
Most of Guinn’s career has been in urban districts, and she has worked under six superintendents as a deputy, she said Tuesday.
She first came to Buffalo in March 2013 as an interim deputy superintendent, though she was employed by the Cross & Joftus education consulting firm, and her salary was covered by grants from the John R. Oishei Foundation, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and Say Yes to Education.
When the money dried up, Guinn became a leadership consultant to the district for $290,359 – $72,000 more than the superintendent makes – for one year, plus travel and lodging expenses. The district was paying that salary, and Guinn was to be in the position through this June.
However, after several School Board members questioned the costs and the scope of the work she was doing, the contract with Cross & Joftus was canceled last October.
Still, School Board members – in a 5-3 vote last week – agreed to bring Guinn back “to finish the work she had started.” It was during that board meeting last Wednesday night that Brown announced she had decided to bring Guinn back for the 90 days – and then some. The current appointment is to last through June 30, “which extends the deadline by a small margin,” Brown said Tuesday.
Guinn’s reintroduction was mired in negativity when it came up at the end of the board’s business meeting, at about 9 p.m., when most spectators, parents, community leaders and all but one reporter had already left.
Some parents and community members complained about a lack of transparency, and the three board dissenters – John B. Licata, Carl P. Paladino and James M. Sampson – said they had no prior knowledge that Brown was going to try to rehire Guinn.
Brown said Tuesday that there was nothing unusual about the protocol she followed, as many of her predecessors picked their own second-in-command. She did say, however, that she regretted the “misinterpretation” surrounding her plans to bring Guinn back. The original plan during the meeting last Wednesday was to advise board members of her decision to rehire Guinn. That changed at the last minute when she learned from legal counsel that the board would have to approve the resolution.
“It was not my intention to hold information from the board,” Brown said, adding that there had been continuing discussions with board members regarding the possibility of bringing Guinn back.
Meanwhile, Brown said the search will continue for a permanent deputy superintendent. The position has been posted, Brown said, and she has received “some résumés.”