Choice for city school post gets a taste of dysfunction - The Buffalo News
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Choice for city school post gets a taste of dysfunction

In her decades-long career in education, Linda L. Cimusz turned around one of Syracuse’s most struggling high schools and helped design an accountability system for the state of Texas.

She has worked at all levels, from the elementary school classroom to a state education department. And she brings experience from a wide variety of school systems. Along with her work at the state level in Texas, she worked in Binghamton, Syracuse, Williamsville and, most recently, Sacred Heart Academy in Eggertsville.

“We developed programs looking at the students’ needs and what they need to be successful,” she said of her work in the field. “I’m not really a person who comes in and says, ‘This is the plan and this is what we need to do.’ You talk to people, work with people.”

Wednesday, she got her first introduction to the Buffalo Board of Education.

Interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie informed board members earlier this week that he planned to introduce Cimusz during this week’s meeting as his choice to be the school district’s chief academic officer. He plans to tap into her expertise to help shape what happens in the classroom.

Yet for that key role, she received a rushed introduction, as board members bickered and quickly left the boardroom after a particularly heated – and often confusing – debate, characteristic of how the board does business.

Their apparent mass exodus before Ogilvie had a chance to introduce Cimusz prompted the interim superintendent to jump out of his seat and wave his hands to capture their attention.

“Earlier in the meeting someone said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could focus on the classroom?’ ” he said before introducing Cimusz, who had been patiently waiting in the audience for the duration of the 3½-hour meeting, which ran two hours over schedule.

Cimusz gracefully accepted the introduction.

The debate centered on a complaint the four members of the School Board minority filed against board member Jason M. McCarthy, alleging that he violated state law and board policy by sharing information from an executive session with the media.

The complaint, filed with the state education commissioner, seeks to have McCarthy removed from office. The board’s outside attorney and an open-government group said McCarthy did nothing wrong.

McCarthy sought legal advice to respond to the complaint, and now wants the board to reimburse him for those expenses. State law does allow for that kind of reimbursement when a board member acts in an official role, as McCarthy says he did.

When the resolution for reimbursement came to a vote, however, those in the minority on the nine-member board vehemently rejected it.

The board’s attorney, Rashondra M. Martin, advised McCarthy to recuse himself from the vote. He did, but then proceeded to vote during the roll call, anyway.

That set board members and casual observers into a frenzy, questioning the legality of McCarthy’s vote.

A bystander in the audience then came forward and beckoned newly elected board member Larry Quinn aside. Quinn returned to the table and said that if McCarthy needed to recuse himself from the vote, so should the four women who filed the complaint. Three of the four – Sharon M. Belton-Cottman, Theresa A. Harris-Tigg and Ruth Kapsiak – were at the meeting. Barbara A. Seals Nevergold was not.

The impromptu adviser sent some board members into a new level of furry, with Harris-Tigg demanding to know his identity and Quinn asking why it mattered.

And then someone figured out that if all four of the present members involved recused themselves, the board would fall short of the quorum required to make decisions.

Harris-Tigg called for a legal review of the entire conversation. Quinn called for a revote. Much of the conversation involved counting and math that seemed much in need of remedial assistance.

Ultimately, the board recast its vote for clarity’s sake.

McCarthy and Belton-Cottman recused themselves. Harris-Tigg initially said, “I don’t know what to do,” when called on to vote, then opted to abstain. Kapsiak followed her lead.

Quinn, Patti Bowers Pierce, Carl P. Paladino and board President James M. Sampson all voted to pay McCarthy’s fees, but fell one vote short of the quorum needed to make that decision.

Sampson then immediately moved to end the meeting, prompting Ogilvie to pop up from his chair and try to redirect the attention to Cimusz.

When asked about the exchange later, Ogilvie said he hoped those discussions would not continue to dominate meetings.

“What you just saw was about an hour and a half of debate,” he said. “I’d love to see even a half-hour, or an hour, of discussion on what’s happening in the classrooms of Buffalo.”


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