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Traverse City, Mich., school officials talked with Buffalo community leaders and School Board members Wednesday about Superintendent James Harris, who is a finalist to head that school system.

Among those who met with the Traverse City officials were Jack Coyle, vice president of the Buffalo Board of Education; Florence D. Johnson, Ferry District representative to the School Board; and Cara Rosenthal Stillman, executive director of the Education Fund of Greater Buffalo.

Harris is one of three finalists to head Traverse City, a rapidly growing resort community with 12,000 students.

Carl Hartman, who is overseeing the search for Traverse City, could not be reached to comment Wednesday. However, it is common for school officials to visit the current districts of finalists; Buffalo School Board members did the same when they conducted the search that led to Harris' hiring in 1996.

Coyle said the representatives had "a huge list of people" to interview and also planned to tour two schools. Harris asked him to speak with them.

In response to the representatives' questions about how accessible Harris is, Coyle said he told them about the weekly public forums that Harris has held during the school year throughout most of his tenure in Buffalo. The unstructured two-hour sessions enable members of the public to speak to the superintendent without any time limit.

"This man subjects himself to scrutiny for two hours every Thursday," Coyle said. "I know I could never do that. That's about as accessible as you can get."

Mrs. Johnson said her conversation with the Traverse City officials "was bittersweet, because I really feel we're giving away one of our brightest assets. And I felt he has had a very positive impact on our curriculum-building and our parent networking."

Traverse City officials expect to make a decision sometime in October.

Harris was also a finalist during the summer to head the Denver public schools but lost out on that bid to another candidate. In the spring, he was an applicant to head the Ann Arbor, Mich., school system but withdrew as a candidate. Last month, he announced that he would not seek a renewal of his contract in Buffalo next July, just as a majority of the board was preparing to vote against such a renewal.

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