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Public has its say on firing Williams 15 speakers at hearing voice conflicting opinions on school superintendent

The Buffalo Board of Education's plan to fire its embattled superintendent weeks before school starts has elected officials, parents and other stakeholders concerned.

That was conveyed Friday to the School Board during a sometimes heated hourlong public hearing in City Hall. A broad mix of 15 speakers spoke on the board's decision to oust Superintendent James A. Williams.

Ellicott Common Council Member Darius G. Pridgen said the termination process has put the school district in a state of "crisis" and "chaos."

"I'm here to tell you that the community at-large and many of the constituents who I represent feel that it is worrying time," Pridgen said.

Many of the speakers defended Williams' six-year tenure.

Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, said she was speaking on behalf of Williams, who is on vacation.

"You need to be ashamed of yourselves," she told the board. "You're going to give him six months for not working when he could stay for a year and go out of here in dignity?"

The board's invoking of the "no-fault" termination clause in Williams' contract entitles him to six months of pay. Williams had announced plans to retire at the end of the upcoming school year.

Williams' track record shows a series of achievements that should not be forgotten, said Vivian O. Evans, who resigned in December as the School Board's East District member in a residency dispute.

Hannya Boulos, executive director of Buffalo ReformED, voiced support for the board's move, launched Tuesday.

"I believe the board is taking appropriate action in order to pave the way for more effective leadership," she said.

Some speakers, however, took the heat off Williams and blamed the wider system for problems affecting Buffalo's schools, which include low test scores, chronic absenteeism and dismal graduation rates.

"We don't think it makes sense to focus the issues of education around people because these issues are not new," said Samuel L. Radford III, vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.

Assemblyman Mark J.F. Schroeder, D-Buffalo, took aim at the state's "useless" Board of Regents, which oversees schools statewide.

"The system is broken throughout New York State, and so to blame a superintendent or the school board really is not the right thing to do," he said.

Sharon Belton-Cottman, the School Board's Ferry District member and Williams backer, said the public comments show widespread concern over the board's timing and thinking.

But the comments at Friday's hearing are unlikely to affect the board's decision.

"I hope that they appreciate that board members have given this a lot of thought and listened to a lot of people -- I know I have," said Christopher L. Jacobs, an at-large School Board member and one of the sponsors of the resolution to invoke the termination clause.

"I'm really trying to make the decision that I believe is best for the district moving forward."

Board President Louis J. Petrucci announced the board will meet at noon Wednesday with Williams to conclude the termination process.

The board had hoped to meet with Williams on Friday. But when it learned he was unavailable, it opted for the public comment session instead.