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City teachers deserve an apple, but many others responsible for the education of Buffalo schoolchildren deserve a worm.

Unlike the teachers, much of the city's political and educational establishment has not put children first. Their combination of indifference and incompetency has helped undermine a system once regarded as a model of urban education.

"There's a tremendous void in leadership in this system," said Jim Maciejewski, a teacher at School 45.

The problems start in City Hall. City politicians have denied the schools needed funding and have done little more than grouse about the district's decline.

The Board of Education and Superintendent Albert Thompson, meanwhile, have muddled their way through much of the past five years. The district's bureaucracy has been resistant to change, and the School Board has not found the will or the way to bring about needed reform.

A Buffalo News survey of educators and parent and community leaders concluded that leadership is the district's biggest weakness. More than eight in 10 survey participants gave Thompson a negative job rating; more than nine in 10 did likewise for the School Board, although a majority said the board's performance has improved the past year.

It is little wonder, as former board member David Kelly said, that "our best principals tend to tell downtown to go to hell."

While the leadership lags, the teachers in the trenches do not. Survey participants said teachers are the best thing the district has going for it.

"I'd give the teachers an A-plus, I'd give the process in which they must function a D," said Southside Elementary Principal Ray Cooley.

Not all is bleak on the leadership front, however.

Four reform-minded School Board members elected in the past three years earned good grades from survey participants.

Marlies Wesolowski of the East District was ranked the board's best member. Helene Kramer, Florence Johnson and Donald Van Every also earned good grades. Four others received average grades, while John Doyle earned a poor grade.

Part 3 of The News' series on city schools begins on Page A4.

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