It’s a bit early in the courtship, but one thing is clear: The Buffalo School Board likes Kriner Cash.
The former Memphis superintendent has become the clear frontrunner to be superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools after informal meetings with some board members on Monday and a formal, two-hour closed interview with more board members Tuesday. Members on both sided of the divided board were impressed enough by what they heard to have Cash meet with stakeholders and staff this week and to feature him at a public forum to be held sometime next week.
Among his attractive qualities, board members said Cash has one thing that any superintendent needs to have in order to survive here: Fortitude.
“He’s a strong person,” said majority bloc member Larry Quinn. “He’s got a good backbone. He’s not going to let this local nonsense phase him. He’s committed to a major, structural transformation of this district.”
“I think he will have the ability to bring together forces in the community that have been at odds,” added board President James Sampson, “including the board and other people in the community.”
Board minority bloc members, meanwhile, appear relieved that the full board is interested in someone who has a track record of leadership in other large urban districts facing similar problems as Buffalo.
“He’s the best candidate we’ve interviewed so far,” said Sharon Belton-Cottman. “He has the experience we’re looking for ... We’re fortunate he’d even consider coming to Buffalo.”
Cash, 60, served as superintendent of the 107,000-student Memphis district for more than four years, a district with a large population of low-income, minority students. When the Memphis district merged with the county school system in 2013, Cash lost his bid to serve as superintendent over the consolidated district. Prior to coming to Memphis, he served as chief of accountability and systemwide performance for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Though Cash is an outsider, something majority bloc members once said they were strongly opposed to, they have been drawn to his track record of pushing change in Memphis, a struggling urban district more than three times the size of the Buffalo’s. And the fact that he’s on good terms with New York’s education commissioner weighs heavily in his favor.
“I think he’s got some great assets,” said board member Carl Paladino. “Obviously he’s a proven fighter for reforms, and I like that part of it.”
Other board members said they were impressed with Cash’s ability to look at the big picture and bring to the district ideas that have been successfully tried elsewhere.
“It was nice to hear from someone who doesn’t have such a parochial view,” board member Jason McCarthy said.
But that doesn’t mean Cash has a ringing endorsement from everyone. Both Paladino and board member Patti Pierce have consistently maintained that the best candidate would be an internal one – someone intimately familiar with the district’s problems and needs. They consider Harvey Austin Principal Kevin Eberle the best candidate for superintendent and would ideally like to see him incorporated into Cash’s leadership team if he were to become superintendent. Asked whether they would tie their vote to Eberle getting a cabinet position, both simply said they hoped it would be considered.
“I would like to see Kevin Eberle in a prominent position in the district,” Pierce said.
She said she likes Cash because he carries the personality of a strong leader who can take charge of the changes the district needs, but she also said that while it would be unreasonable to force Cash to name Eberle to a high-level position, that would be an ideal solution.
Paladino, meanwhile, said that even someone as experienced as Cash needs trustworthy internal advisers in order to get off to a strong start. Among the people Cash is expected to meet with are a group of administrators and principals, including Eberle, who could serve as touchstone advisors, he said.
“He’s got to meet with internal people to get a feel for what he has available to him and how he’s going to address problems,” he said. “If he’s going to work with people that I have trust in, that are well intended, then I have no problem.”
Other board members said they were simply glad to hear that Cash doesn’t intend to displace current district leaders and bring in a big posse of outsiders. While Cash didn’t close the door on recruiting key leaders from outside the district, if necessary, he said he’d make the most of the talent that already exists here.
“I think he’s going to look at people here and look at them very, very seriously,” Sampson said.
Cash, on the direction of the board, declined to comment Tuesday. Sampson said there would be plenty of opportunities to hear from him in the near future.
InterimSuperintendent Darren Brown spent much of Tuesday arranging for Cash to met with select individuals and groups. Cash had several meetings Tuesday afternoon and has many more lined up for Wednesday. Those meetings include conversations with some principals, parent groups, community leaders, elected officials, immigrant community members, religious leaders and further conversations with board members.
Though Cash leaves town on Thursday, he will return for another visit next week, when the board expects to hold a moderated public forum where he will be introduced to the broader public.
District Parent Coordinating Council President Samuel L. Radford III, who met with Cash for 2½ hours Tuesday afternoon, said Cash clearly stands head and shoulders above all other candidates the School Board has interviewed to date. He not only knew a great deal about education, but had done his homework on the issues and players in the Buffalo school district, Radford said.
“He is not in over his head,” Radford said. “At most, he’s waist high. He’s been in much deeper water than Buffalo.”