Valuable time has been forfeited over the past several weeks, but the Buffalo School Board’s broadly backed decision to conduct a national search for a new superintendent is a welcome one, albeit one that must now be placed on an extraordinarily fast track.
While we admired the board majority’s determination to replace Interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie once it concluded he wasn’t performing as expected, it was always troublesome that it wanted to look only within the district. It had selected a highly successful principal, James D. Weimer, without input from the public or the rest of the board and, in so doing, created a political firestorm. Not surprisingly, Weimer thought better of the idea and backed out, perhaps realizing that neither he, nor possibly any principal, had the necessary experience or stature to navigate the treacherous currents of the Buffalo School District and its dysfunctional board. It could make for a famously bad career move.
The board – including members of its majority and minority blocs – may well have shot the city in the foot when it comes to finding a leader with the skills to guide the school district to educational excellence. That’s a critical matter. Buffalo’s economic resurgence won’t be firing on all cylinders until families believe they can move into the city and have their children receive a good education. Without a competent school district, the city’s revival cannot fully succeed and, in fact, could stall.
So, the only choice now is to do what should already have been done, and better late than never. The board appears to be taking a wise approach, combining a general search – who knows who might appear? – with a targeted one that aims to identify likely prospects to be recruited. Among those, intriguingly, could be two former Buffalonians who have pursued careers in education elsewhere – in Rochester and Florida – though it is unclear whether either would be interested in the challenge posed by Buffalo. In addition, the board will solicit electronic input from the public to ward off the circus-like atmosphere that could otherwise envelop the process.
But time is short. Ogilvie has made clear that he will not stay in his post past June 30. He is already retired from Erie-1 BOCES and he has had enough of this School Board. That leaves just over seven weeks to identify the best possible candidate, negotiate a contract and sign the deal. It won’t be easy. The board should look for whatever expert help it can find.