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Not an election, but campaign signs promote candidate for Buffalo school superintendent

A strange sight has been popping up across the City of Buffalo – blue and white signs that read, “HIRE KEVIN EBERLE SUPERINTENDENT.”

The signs would make sense if the superintendency for the Buffalo Public Schools were up for election. But that position is filled only by School Board appointment. The only votes that matter are the votes of the nine board members.

Nevertheless, the hire-Eberle signs have popped up along the Scajaquada Expressway/Route 198, city roundabouts, side streets and front lawns. There’s even a Facebook page promoting Eberle, principal of Harvey Austin Elementary School 97, for the district’s top job.

An independent group of teachers who have worked with Eberle and consider themselves members of his informal fan club appear to have paid for and posted all the signs. Chris Gelsomino, who worked with Eberle as a sixth-grade teacher at International Prep, said a group of five teachers contributed the bulk of the money for the signs, and one was connected to a printer who gave the teachers a discounted price.

“He’s got a very passionate group of people behind him,” he said of Eberle.

But similar signs also popped up in Hamburg a year ago when Eberle, a Hamburg resident, previously applied for the superintendent’s position there, prior to the appointment of since-departed Superintendent Richard E. Jetter in March 2014. That leaves some to question where the sign idea originated.

Campaigning for the superintendent’s seat is not a new concept. Candidate Gregory D. Mott, principal of Grabiarz School of Excellence, has personally reached out to School Board members on both sides. Candidate Will Keresztes, associate superintendent for student support services, publicly released his proposed superintendent transition plan.

And both of them have reportedly lobbied other district stakeholders and city power players.

But those subtle campaigns have nothing on this street sign effort, which has irritated members of the School Board minority bloc.

“Any time you drive down the 198 and see signs for people, it’s not a fair process,” said board member Mary Ruth Kapsiak. “It’s not an election. They’re trying to ram someone down your throat, and you can’t do that.”

Eberle’s most vocal supporter, majority board member Carl P. Paladino, was speculated to be the originator behind the signs since he issued a lengthy email blast two weeks ago endorsing Eberle as “a no-brainer” for the district’s next permanent superintendent. But he said he had no idea who was behind the signs and wouldn’t lie about it if he had been.

Teachers who have worked with Eberle, however, said that a core group of about 15 to 30 teachers has been actively promoting him. Mary Favata, a teacher who worked with Eberle for four years at International Prep, said she contributed $20.

“A bunch of us chipped in,” she said.

After the signs were printed, they were distributed at a small rally for Eberle in front of City Hall prior to last week’s School Board meeting. Some teachers placed signs on their lawns and encouraged others to display them, as well. Others planted them on public rights of way, even replacing ones that were removed.

Eberle, 57, does not yet enjoy majority support from the board and is considered a polarizing figure among district administrators. Though majority members Paladino, Larry Quinn and Patricia A. Pierce have said they support for him and his vision, others remain either undecided or have faulted Eberle for his record as the leader of struggling schools that are not in good standing with the state.

“Whether you have a sign or not does not make you qualified for superintendent,” said board member Sharon M. Belton-Cottman.

Teachers and administrators who have worked with him and rallied for his appointment as superintendent, however, have heaped superlatives and praise upon Eberle as “inspiring,” “visionary,” “totally for the teachers and the children” and “the best principal I ever worked for.” They said Eberle promoted teamwork, that their schools improved under Eberle’s leadership and that the board would be hard-pressed to find any teacher or administrator who has worked for Eberle and didn’t support him.

“He deserves a shot,” said Gabrielle Morquecho, who previously served as assistant principal under Eberle at International Prep. “Dr. Eberle has a huge following that I’m not sure that the board is aware of.”

While it appears the signs are part of a grass-roots effort by city teachers, those aware of Eberle’s prior application to serve as superintendent of Hamburg Central Schools stated that when Eberle applied for that post just over a year ago, similar signs to the ones in Buffalo started popping up on lawns in the Southtowns community, as well.

News Staff Reporter Tiffany Lankes contributed to this report. email: stan@buffnews.com