Finally, Pamela Brown is on the right track. She’s planning on leaving her job as Buffalo school superintendent. That’s good for her and it’s especially good for Buffalo schools. The conditions under which she leaves are important, but they are secondary to the fact that she is making room for new leadership.
Brown evidently saw the writing on the wall. With the election of two new School Board members who believe she is unsuited to the task, her base of support had crumbled. Come July, when the new members take their seats, there will be enough votes to dismiss her at a financial cost to the district of a year’s pay – $217,500.
Being fired is clearly undesirable for Brown, who would be better off if she can present her departure as mutually agreeable, and for the district, which needs to conclude this chapter as cleanly and quickly as possible. That suggests that any payout to Brown could be for significantly less than a year’s salary. Any payment to Brown is enough to cause widespread teeth-grinding, but it’s a likely outcome and, given the circumstances, an acceptable one.
Acceptable, but hard. Brown still doesn’t have a clue – or is pretending not to have a clue – about why the board wants her gone, as does a large segment of the community, including its business leadership.
In announcing her decision to leave, she referred to “the recent, persistent and baseless allegations about my suitability for the position …” Grant her “persistent,” but the complaints are not that recent and they are anything but baseless. On the contrary, they are built on bedrock that she provided.
There’s no need at this point to review yet again the litany of problems, denials and excuses, but the record is clear that under Brown’s leadership, the district has floundered. It has been unable to meet even basic standards of competency that other large school districts are able to achieve routinely. And in the nearly two years of Brown’s stewardship, the record has not improved.
Brown’s exit strategy at least is smart. The current board is friendlier to her than the new one will be and is more likely to allow her a graceful departure – or as graceful as the circumstances allow, anyway. It also avoids the stigma of being fired. That’s fine, as long as the cost is reasonable, defined as significantly less than she would get if she were axed in July.
But what mustn’t happen is for the current board to make decisions on Brown’s successor, even an interim one. Brown is leaving because the new board wouldn’t have tolerated her any longer. Since the incoming board is the reason for her departure, and the existing board was the reason she survived last year’s vote to fire her, decisions on new leadership should await the arrival of the board’s new members.
To be sure, there are a number of good candidates to run the district as the board searches for a permanent superintendent. They include Judy Elliott, the district’s distinguished educator who was appointed by the state to help the district improve; budget director Barbara J. Smith; Will Keresztes, director of student support services; and Donald Ogilvie, the superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES. Ogilvie will retire in July and was considered a possible candidate for superintendent before Brown was hired.
This is only a start, but it is at least that. There will be much work to do to put a strong new superintendent in place. And then, of course, to give Buffalo students – remember them? – the education they deserve.