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Board vote makes top administrators ‘at will’ employees

The Buffalo School Board late Wednesday night reappointed 10 top administrators – but as “at will” employees, meaning they could be fired at any time without cause.

The administrators include four associate superintendents, two district lawyers, and public relations, technology and district operations administrators.

The associate superintendents include two of the district’s heads of school leadership, who directly supervise schools. They also include Will Keresztes, head of student support services who has applied for the superintendent position.

The 10 administrators, some of whom are members of Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie’s executive cabinet, were either working without employment contracts or were facing the expiration of their contracts at the end of this month. Though these administrators had no guaranteed job security under their old or expiring contracts, Wednesday’s vote highlights a philosophical divide among board members regarding the necessity of keeping top-level personnel.

Ogilvie had argued to extend the contracts for defined time periods, saying these individuals will be necessary to stabilize the district and carry out long-term initiatives, especially given the future change in superintendents. He also said the administrators deserved raises.

“That was based upon my work with them and what I know will be required of them in the months ahead,” he said Thursday.

But other board majority members have steadfastly refused to approve such extensions, saying it would be wrong to tie the hands of the next superintendent, who deserves the flexibility to put together his or her own leadership team.

“There was this urgency to tie them into three year contracts. No offense – they’ve worked so hard and done so much and the intention wasn’t to set them up and expose them to any insecurity – but if you’re bringing in new management, you don’t want to bind them to future liability,” said board member Jason McCarthy.

Board President James Sampson said Wednesday’s reappointment provisions aren’t that different from administrators’ pre-existing contracts. He also said it’s hard to justify raises when these administrators have not received regular evaluations.

“We value their service, we want them to continue working for the district, and we will engage in a discussion with them regarding making sure they’re getting all the benefits they’re currently receiving,” he said.

Although the change in employment terms for these 10 administrators deprives them of any due process rights they would otherwise receive if they were fired for cause, it otherwise guarantees the continuation of all other employment rights. Administrators were also previously guaranteed three months severance pay if they were terminated without cause, but now severance pay would be prorated depending on how long the employee worked for the district.

Aside from the board majority members, the resolution received reluctant support from minority bloc member Barbara Seals Nevergold because it preserves administrators’ “basic rights.” Other minority bloc board members decried the resolution as leading to “the dismantlement of the district” and “a witch hunt” that shows a lack of respect for district staff. The resolution passed 6-3.

To read the full resolution, visit the School Zone blog at www.buffalonews.com/schoolzone

email: stan@buffnews.com