Tens of thousands of Buffalo public school students will not get the education they deserve until the Board of Education acts to provide new leadership for the system.
After taking the necessary steps three weeks ago to dismiss Superintendent James A. Williams, the board tripped badly when it gave him one more year on the job, apparently deciding that is was more important to treat Williams nicely than to take care of the students for whom the board members are responsible.
The board needs to get on with it. Williams needs to leave now to create room for someone fresh who is capable of developing a management plan for the schools until a new superintendent is hired. Williams as a lame duck has no useful place in the turnaround effort. Rather, he will be an awkward hindrance to new leadership.
The board is extraordinarily fortunate to have capable people who can help, but it seems unable to take the necessary steps to call on them. Failure to consult with Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie, Regent Robert M. Bennett and new State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. would be sheer idiocy.
Ogilvie is a brilliant educator and knows the Buffalo school system. He is the state education commissioner's representative to local school districts and oversees a host of programs and services that BOCES provides to those districts. He became part of the district's landscape about a year ago, when Williams asked him to lead a review team to assess what were at the time the district's seven persistently lowest-achieving schools. The team issued a report on each school, providing observations as well as recommendations. Ogilvie also wrote a six-page letter outlining systemic issues affecting the city schools. He harshly criticized what he called a culture of distrust and disrespect in the Buffalo Public Schools, calling for administrators, teachers, union leaders and others in the system to figure out how to work collaboratively to improve the schools.
Bennett, in his fourth five-year term as a regent, has spent his life in public service. He is a former president and CEO of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, where he spearheaded Success-by-Six, a comprehensive early childhood collaboration program. He serves as a distinguished lecturer in policy and politics in education at Niagara University and as a senior policy adviser to the vice president and dean of the graduate school of education at the University at Buffalo.
King, before moving to the State Education Department, was in charge of high schools in New York City, and before that he headed turnaround schools in Boston. He has been a key player and architect in the state educational reform agenda, including "Race to the Top."
While there are signs that the Buffalo Board of Education is coming to realize that it needs to part ways with Williams now, the separation is taking too long and the kids are suffering.
Board President Ralph R. Hernandez called, then canceled, a special meeting Wednesday to discuss setting in motion proceedings to consider terminating Williams' contract. The board can't wait any longer to start those proceedings.
If the board decides to invoke the "no fault" termination clause in Williams' contract, the board would have to notify him of its tentative decision, and notify him in writing of a date on which the board wants to meet with him in executive session to discuss its intent. After that meeting, if the board still wants to fire Williams, it would have to notify him in writing of the effective date of the termination.
Williams would be entitled to six months' pay, or $110,000, if he is fired. But that is a small price to pay to clear the way for the new leadership desperately needed to rescue Buffalo's schoolchildren.