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Taylor to fill vacant School Board seat ; Retired administrator appointed to represent East District in 8-0 vote

Rosalyn L. Taylor, a retired administrator in the Buffalo public schools system, was unanimously appointed Thursday to the East District seat on the Board of Education.

Board members cited Taylor's 37 years of service in the district, emphasizing the work she did as an assistant superintendent, overseeing school closings and guiding reconstruction efforts, often delivering parents the bad news that their child's school would be closing.

"She always struck me as a competent and kind person," said Christopher Jacobs, an at-large board member. "I was impressed with her as a facilitator, at meetings [about] school closures, meetings filled with a lot of emotion. I felt Rosalyn conducted herself professionally and with the utmost respect for parents and families."

Taylor's appointment calls into question the solidity of the board's support for Superintendent James A. Williams.

Vivian O. Evans, who resigned the East District seat a few weeks ago, often needled administrators with questions -- but in the end, she always provided a crucial fifth vote on the nine-member board to deliver a majority to Williams.

In the competition to succeed Evans, Taylor was heartily backed by Florence Johnson, perhaps Williams' staunchest supporter.

But the new board member brings her own history with Williams.

Taylor, 63, retired from the district in 2006, about a year after Williams arrived in Buffalo. By many accounts, the two of them had a rather strained relationship.

Over the past few weeks Taylor has limited her comments about the superintendent. Thursday night, she chose her words carefully when asked about him.

"I had a satisfactory relationship with Dr. Williams. It was cordial," she said. "I was retiring; he was coming in. We had a decent relationship.

"It was satisfactory," she reiterated.

Williams tells a different story.

"I had a very good relationship with her," he said.

He offered high praise for Taylor's work in the district and said he was "very pleased" with the board's selection of her. He said both she and Theresa A. Harris-Tigg, the other leading contender for the seat, were strong candidates.

"But in these tough fiscal times, I think we needed someone who could come in and start to work right away," he said, referring to Taylor, who worked closely with parts of the district's budget at times.

Taylor said her priority will be dealing with the superintendent's recommendation, released Wednesday, to close two elementary schools and consolidate two high schools at Grover Cleveland High School. The proposal needs more study, she said, and she plans to attend community meetings the superintendent intends to hold.

"I will be there," she said.

She also plans to focus on the district's graduation rate, which hovers around 50 percent.

Taylor, who sits on the board of the Oracle Charter School, said she would seek advice from the district's general counsel on whether she would be able to hold seats on the two boards at the same time. If she can't, she said, she will step down from Oracle's board.

She has voiced support for charter schools, praising some of their practices and saying they offer parents a choice. And, like most on the Board of Education, she has called for a change in the funding stream for charter schools. The state currently channels charter schools' funding first through the public school districts.

"I want to work on the funding so it's a cordial relationship between the charters and the district," she said.

Taylor will be sworn in at the beginning of the board's meeting on Wednesday.

In the race for the East District appointment, Taylor edged out Harris-Tigg, a former Buffalo school teacher and current Buffalo State College professor. Harris-Tigg ran against Evans for the East District seat in May, losing by a narrow margin despite being heavily outspent in the race.

Before appointing Taylor on Thursday, the board first entertained a nomination for Harris-Tigg. She won support from three board members: Pamela Cahill, Jason McCarthy and Jacobs. When the board balloted for Taylor immediately afterward, those three joined the rest of the board in supporting Taylor.

Many board members said both women were the strongest candidates from a field of five, making for a difficult decision.

The three other candidates were Chris W. Brown Jr., a counselor and associate minister; Frank Leli, a retired plant worker; and Anthony Mastrangelo, who works at WKSE Radio.

For complete education coverage, go to buffalonews.com/schools.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com