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Finish the job; Board must remove Williams to confront other problems

Superintendent James A. Williams is winding up his leadership of the Buffalo Public School District with a final set of insolence and insults to the School Board he reports to.

In invoking its right Tuesday to dismiss the superintendent, the board finally did what should have been done months ago. But to terminate Williams immediately requires providing him an opportunity to appear before the board to state his case.

He should have done that last night; he purposely didn't. He has been offered three dates in the coming week. He says he can't make any of them.

If any confirmation was needed of his incompetence and intransigence, he has presented it to not only the board, but to students, parents and taxpayers.

The board will get the firing done, one way or the other. But it cannot afford to wait for Williams' departure to begin working on an entirely new and positive chapter for the schools. That must be done immediately if it is to deal effectively with serious, unprecedented issues of the potential loss of millions of dollars in government funding and of schools that may not open next month.

That will be easier with Williams out of the way, but the board has to act. The fact that it voted, 6-3, to invoke the "no-fault" termination clause in the superintendent's contract is a good first step. And there's reason to believe it will finish the job, but follow-through had not been this board's virtue. For the sake of Buffalo's underserved students, the board needs to get the job done.

Buffalo schools are failing. Another round of dismal state tests show, once again, students' inability to grasp basic reading and math skills.

Moreover, the state Education Department has rejected the district's application for up to $18 million in federal turnaround funds for three failing schools. The district was eligible for up to $2 million a year, for three years, for Lafayette High School, Bilingual Center School 33 and Dr. Charles Drew Science Magnet.

The district submitted no turnaround plans for East High School, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Waterfront Elementary and Futures Academy.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., without commenting on the superintendent, said he was disappointed in Buffalo's failure to submit adequate plans for the schools and, in particular, mentioned Lafayette, which applied unsuccessfully a year ago for turnaround funds and was granted $300,000 to use for planning in 2010-11.

King has said that if Buffalo does not submit an adequate plan for Lafayette by Jan. 1, he will ask the Board of Regents to revoke the school's registration, which would effectively close the school. The district might point to a few successful instances of federal funding to improve schools, but no school should be left behind.

Some Board of Education members who voted against starting termination proceedings cited the timing, just one month before the start of school. And Board member Florence Johnson likened the proceedings to a kangaroo court. Both points are wrong. The first is irrelevant -- students aren't learning with Williams in place -- and the second is laughable. What the board is doing is pursuing its contractual right -- obligation, really -- to resolve a festering problem that has no other acceptable solution.

The board is doing the right thing in following a two-step process to dismiss the superintendent. It needs to finish the job.

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