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Larry Quinn backs search for Buffalo superintendent

In a rare show of consensus, the Buffalo School Board agreed Wednesday to begin an “open and transparent” search for a permanent superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools, with a job description likely to be posted in a week’s time.

Board member Larry Quinn notified his colleagues earlier in the day that he would submit a resolution at next week’s board meeting for an open search, with the goal of interviewing and hiring a permanent superintendent by July 1.

To expedite matters, members of the board minority bloc agreed with the majority’s desire to bypass the use of an outside search firm. However, they and Interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie expressed deep skepticism over the School Board’s ability to actually hire a permanent superintendent in less than two months time.

“It is not about who we like or who don’t like,” said board member Mary Ruth Kapsiak. “It’s about who is best for the job.”

Ogilvie also slammed the door on the possibility that he might be willing to linger in the interim superintendent’s position if it takes a little longer for a permanent superintendent to be found.

“I wouldn’t count on that,” he responded when board member Jason McCarthy raised the question. He later added, “I cannot, I should not, and I will not.”

The board majority’s desire to move forward with a search follows a contentious few weeks during which community members pushed back against their decision to not conduct a search and instead to appoint Emerson School of Hospitality Principal James G. Weimer directly to the position. Last week, Weimer said he would not agree to be the majority’s hand-picked candidate, putting the majority back at square one in the search to find Ogilvie’s replacement.

Quinn said all board members should feel free to target prospective candidates and invite them to apply for the permanent superintendent job.

Although a job posting for the deputy superintendent will be posted to local, state and national education, school administrator and superintendent groups, as well as the newspaper and national publications like “Education Week,” many agree that one-on-one recruitment will likely be necessary to bring solid, qualified candidates to the Buffalo school district, which has gained an unwanted reputation for its infighting.

Members of the board minority bloc have repeatedly pushed for a broad superintendent search, but members of the majority clearly want the process to move forward as rapidly as possible, possibly as quickly as a one month time frame.

“I’m looking for a straight-forward solicitation, interview and select,” Quinn said earlier in the day. “Don’t want it politicized, don’t want the union involved. The board’s responsibility is to interview and select. I’m not interested in passing that responsibility to people outside the board.”

During the board’s Executive Affairs Committee meeting Wednesday evening, members of the board minority, as well as board majority member Patti Pierce, said they wanted to receive more community input to help identify the qualities of a strong district superintendent.

But Quinn said he was reluctant to host a public forum as part of the board’s selection process because he believed such forums are stacked with local and state teachers union activists who don’t represent the interests of the broader public.

He referred to last week’s hostile and angry board meeting as an example of the type of exchange he wants to bypass in the upcoming superintendent selection process.

“I don’t want to make this a circus,” he said. “I think our last meeting was.”

Board member Barbara Nevergold responded that the environment was a product of the board majority’s making because of the “exclusionary” superintendent selection process it used to try and name Weimer to the top job without input from the rest of the board or the public.

Ogilvie recommended that instead of a public forum, the board should create a space on the district website where the public can submit input on the qualifications and experience they’d like to see in a future superintendent. That input would be consolidated and summarized for board members to help them frame questions in the interview process.

The board agreed with the suggestion.

Ogilvie, who has led prior superintendent searches, also suggested that the board do an initial screening of applicants, followed by public presentations by candidates to the board about how they would lead the district.

The minority bloc has not been alone in its push to conduct a superintendent search. In addition to the Buffalo Teachers Federation, members of the religious clergy, and public school advocacy groups and support groups like the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization have all pushed for a public search with community involvement.

Along with that more vocal push, however, has been a quieter one from some business and education reformers more typically aligned with the board majority. A number of these community and education leaders have even passed along to the board members the names of potential candidates, including Mary Ellen Elia, a Florida superintendent with Buffalo roots, and Shaun Nelms, who grew up on Buffalo’s East Side and graduated from City Honors School before building his career in the Rochester area. It is not clear whether either of them would want the job.

A search also reopens the possibility that local candidates will put their hands up.

Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes has been aggressively lobbying and soliciting community support for the position. He has also submitted a detailed interim superintendent transition plan.

It’s clear, however, that he does not currently enjoy the support of the board majority. When board member Sharon Belton-Cottman recommended Keresztes for the interim superintendent job at Wednesday’s meeting, Quinn and McCarthy laughed and said they have received many phone calls from other community players asking that the board bypass a superintendent search process and just name Keresztes to the top job.

“What is your problem with him?” Belton-Cottman demanded. “We need to make sure this district is running forward. If your goal is to just dismantle this district, why don’t you just say it?”

McCarthy responded that there’s no need to hurry in the selection of deputy because the temporary position should not take long to decide.

email: stan@buffnews.com and tlankes@buffnews.com