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Seven seek Evans' seat on Board of Education ; Minister, professor among candidates

Seven people have submitted their names as candidates to fill the East District seat on the Buffalo Board of Education, which Vivian O. Evans agreed to relinquish in December, 4 1/2 months after moving to Maryland.

The opening has attracted some high-profile applicants, including a local minister, a retired assistant superintendent, an English professor and the president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.

Evans' resignation officially takes effect Wednesday. The eight remaining members of the board have 30 days from then to appoint her successor. If they are unable to line up five votes behind a single candidate during that time, the mayor will appoint someone.

The East District seat is particularly important because Evans could generally be counted on as the fifth vote to solidify a majority in support of Superintendent James A. Williams. Her absence leaves a board that is split 4-4. Evans' successor will determine whether Williams can continue to count on a supportive board.

The next board election will not be held until May 2013, so naming someone to the East District seat will present the only possibility for a change in the board's composition until then, barring any other resignations.

The district has refused to release the names of the candidates for the East District seat, but The Buffalo News has obtained six of them:

*The Rev. Chris W. Brown Jr., associate minister at St. John Baptist Church and a counselor with his own practices.

As a third-grader in the Buffalo Public Schools, Brown was diagnosed as mentally retarded. But when he was retested in eighth grade, he was found to have above-average intelligence. That experience makes it easier for him to identify with many students' struggles, he said.

"I know how it is to be ostracized, educationally and socially -- to be labeled for being something that you're not," he said.

Brown, 48, has a master's degree in counseling and has been in the health field for 20 years. He would like to see the public schools fill in the gaps in services to better address students' and parents' emotional, mental and social needs.

*Theresa A. Harris-Tigg, who spent 13 years teaching junior and senior high in the Buffalo Public Schools. She is in her fifth year as an assistant professor in Buffalo State College's English department.

Harris-Tigg, 56, ran against Evans for the East District seat in May and lost by 15 votes.

Her interest in the seat has sparked opposition by the Buffalo Teachers Federation because some teachers have said she crossed the picket line in the 2000 teachers strike.

That's not true, Harris-Tigg said. She said she was already at school, tutoring students, when the strike was called.

"I learned sometime in an hour or so that a strike was called," she said. "I had children with me -- I wasn't going to leave them. So I stayed."

*Frank Leli, a 64-year-old resident of the Broadway/Bailey neighborhood. He could not be reached to comment.

*Kent Olden, a 2002 graduate of Hutchinson-Central Technical High School who went to Morehouse College in Atlanta. He recently completed a master's degree in public relations management at Buffalo State College.

At 26, he is the youngest of the known candidates.

He said he became interested in the East District seat when former board member Janique Curry brought the vacancy to his attention. He had worked on her campaign for the board.

"She really feels like I would have a lot to bring to the position," Olden said.

*Rosalyn Taylor, a retired Buffalo Public Schools administrator. She started teaching in 1969 and worked her way up to become assistant superintendent of elementary education and then assistant superintendent for school operations before retiring in 2006.

During her tenure, she worked to raise student achievement and was closely involved with the Joint Schools Construction Project, she said. Taylor said she had a good working relationship with Mary Ruth Kapsiak, now the board's Central District representative, an elementary supervisor who worked under her.

Taylor, 63, said she is passionate about improving educational opportunities for children in Buffalo.

"It's in my blood," she said. "I've been living in the East District for over 30 years. I'm committed to doing whatever I can to improve things."

*Co-Leen Webb, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.

She works closely with Samuel Radford III, the group's vice president, to try to get parents more involved in the Buffalo Public Schools. In the past couple of years, the group successfully advocated to have a paid parent coordinator in each school.

She could not be reached to comment.

Applications for the East District seat will be accepted through noon Friday. Resumes may be sent to James M. Kane, chief of staff, Room 801, City Hall.

A secretary in Kane's office Monday confirmed that seven resumes have been received, but Kane declined to release any information about the applicants.

"I'd rather wait until after noon on the 7th [of January] and after I talk to the board," Kane said.

But according to the state's top authority on open government, each candidate's name became public once he or she filed a resume with the district.

"There's certainly no prohibition regarding disclosure -- and in my opinion, in this instance there's an obligation to disclose the identities of the candidates for the position," said Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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