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Students need help; Having failed to act on Williams, the Buffalo School board founders

Faced with the prospect of an aimless academic year, of persistently failing schools and of thousands of students being denied the sound, basic education guaranteed to them by the state constitution, the Buffalo School Board took a deep breath Monday and did absolutely nothing.

The board met to consider terminating the contract of Superintendent James A. Williams, who has been ineffective as a leader and disingenuous with the School Board and, thus, with taxpayers and parents, as well. But after meeting in closed session, President Ralph R. Hernandez announced that the board had decided not to act. Thus, it leaves in place a lame-duck superintendent who has announced that he will resign in 2012, condemning thousands of students to another year in the academic wilderness.

It was a strange and destructive decision. It is obvious that if Williams couldn't deal with the problems of failing schools before he was lame duck, he can't do it afterward. That leaves the School Board with a new task. Having refused to remove the superintendent, who has become a roadblock to progress, the board needs to account for that error by telling Buffalo's citizens what it will do to mitigate the damage that Williams is causing and that it is endorsing.

There are two obvious ones. The board must quickly find a capable replacement for outgoing Deputy Superintendent Folasade Oladele, who announced her departure earlier this month. She, also, had become a destructive influence within the district and her departure was necessary. But Williams needs a strong and effective deputy who can become the face of the district.

Since that won't occur quickly, district officials need to reach out for help where it is being offered. As this page has previously noted, experts are willing to pitch in. They include Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie, Regent Robert M. Bennett and the state's new Education Commissioner, John B. King Jr.

The board, which needs all the help it can get, for some reason has been unwilling to tap the best person available. Ogilvie is not only admired throughout the New York State education system, he is the author of the report on Buffalo's failing schools. Who could be more qualified to help?

The board must also start recruiting a new superintendent, but the big question is what will it do for the 37,000 public school students until a new leader comes on board?

We don't know what paralyzed the board on Monday, preventing it from removing the failed superintendent, but whatever it was, Monday's inaction was a failure of the board, as well. The board has been labeled dysfunctional by a number of educators and prominent citizens. It's time to figure out how to seat a better board -- one that will truly serve the students and parents of the district.

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