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Addition by subtraction

It's been three months since the Buffalo Board of Ed decided to adopt a turnaround model for seven failing schools that involves hiring outside groups to run those schools. (The board ended up in July deciding not to hire outside groups this year for four of those schools.)

Ever since the board's initial decision in May, there's been much discussion regarding what these educational partnership organizations actually are supposed to do, and how they are supposed to function. Since this is all new in New York State, there's quite a bit of deciphering to do.

Countless times in the past three months, I've heard everyone from state officials to the superintendent to board members say that the EPO is supposed to take the place of the superintendent, as it relates to the particular school that the EPO is in charge of. In other words, the EPO is supposed to report directly to the board, so the superintendent will be responsible for fewer schools.

Plenty of people were surprised when word spread that Superintendent James Williams wanted to add an administrator to central office to oversee the EPOs, seeing as the EPOs are supposed to be directly reporting to the board, not the district's administration.

Board President Lou Petrucci said the new administrator would eventually take on more responsibilities, as more low-performing schools are identified and potentially taken out from under the superintendent's responsibilities.

"This person is going to act as the liaison between the board and the EPOs," Petrucci said. "It will also be the person who coordinates any support the EPOs need in City Hall."

The new administrative position has not yet been posted.

In the meantime, other changes pertaining to the EPOs have already been made.

For the past few months, Amber Dixon, executive director of accountability, and Debbie Buckley, who runs the district's grants department, have been the point people for all things EPO-related. They have been charged with getting up to speed on the rules governing EPOs, which seem to be constantly evolving, as this is an entirely new model in education in New York State.

In recent days, the superintendent pulled Dixon and Buckley off those EPO duties and instead put Debra Sykes and Anne Botticelli, both associate superintendents, in charge of the EPOs.

That is not sitting well with some board members.

"It's clear the EPOs and the board want Debbie Buckley and Amber Dixon," said Mary Ruth Kapsiak, vice president for student achievement. "So how does [Williams] get to make that call? How can you take somebody who's been to all the meetings and knows all the integral parts off a piece that's so integral to the district?"

- Mary Pasciak

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