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Officials forfeit leave days to compensate district 6 did outside work on city schools' time

Six Buffalo school administrators gave back a total of 47 leave days this spring to compensate the Buffalo Public Schools for time they spent doing outside work on district time, according to district records.

The administrators, from a principal to the former deputy superintendent, forfeited vacation days and personal days to compensate for time they spent on Leadership Academy activities, according to copies of settlement agreements obtained by The Buffalo News under the state's Freedom of Information Law.

The News reported in the spring that 14 administrators had received stipends from a foundation ranging from $9,000 to $22,000 a year for work they did on the Leadership Academy, above their district salaries -- an arrangement that the School Board had not been aware of.

The day before The News published a story in March about the stipends, six administrators signed settlements with the district in which they gave back leave time.

When asked that day about the specifics of who gave back how many days, district spokeswoman Elena Cala said details were not available.

"It's still in the planning. So, future tense. Nothing but an agreement at this stage," she said.

The Leadership Academy provides training for new principals and assistant principals. It has been funded in recent years by the Tower Foundation, a local philanthropic organization that wants to help the city schools.

When news of the academy stipends came to light in March, Superintendent James A. Williams issued a written statement.

"Though there was no violation of district policy, and these employees performed most of the work on evenings and weekends, the employees involved have relinquished leave time to compensate for the time they performed these duties," he said.

Board members said Friday that they had not seen details regarding the time that was given back, but had been briefed in the spring by general counsel Brendan P. Kelleher.

"We never really got any specifics about it, which is not surprising," said board member Ralph R. Hernandez, who was president of the board at the time. "It's just a mess."

Central office administrator Mark W. Frazier, who runs the Leadership Academy, forfeited 18.5 vacation days, more than twice as many days as anyone else, according to the settlement agreements.

Frazier, whose title is lead community superintendent, is one of the half-dozen or so highest-ranking administrators in the district.

"He lost an immense amount of credibility with the entire board," board member Chris Jacobs said of Frazier's handling of the academy. "I was just really troubled by the carelessness of this staff, or more so, abuse of a major partnership that we've had with the Tower Foundation.

"This starts from the top. The superintendent was hands-off on this thing and let it get run in a completely sloppy way."

In an interview this spring, Frazier told The Buffalo News he had kept meticulous records and had not performed any Leadership Academy work on district time.

Former Deputy Superintendent Folasade Oladele was the highest-ranking official to forfeit leave time -- in her case, five leave days. Her settlement does not specify what type of leave time she forfeited, other than to say the time would be deducted from her "personal leave time, with any balance of time coming from employee's accrued vacation time."

"Days were forfeited if work was performed for the Leadership Academies during a day that was not a weekend or a holiday appearing on the district's main office calendar," Barbara J. Smith, the district's chief financial officer, said in an email.

The other settlement agreements indicate:

Fran Wilson, a community superintendent, gave back two personal days and 6 1/2 vacation days.

Margaret Boorady, a community superintendent, gave back 3 1/2 vacation days.

Casandra Harrington, a community superintendent, gave back 4 1/2 vacation days. When she signed the settlement, she added a handwritten note next to her signature, "signed without the opportunity to consult with my personal attorney because of time constraints."

Michael O'Brien, the principal at Leonardo da Vinci High School, gave back seven days of unspecified leave time. He added a note indicating he "signed without opportunity to consult with [administrators union] attorney or to have union representation due to time constraints and urgency."

Oladele, who resigned this month, could not be reached to comment. None of the other five administrators responded to a request to comment.

"The district investigated allegations that certain employees received stipends for work they performed for the Leadership Academy programs, and the district took prompt remedial action in response to what it discovered through its investigation," Kelleher said in an email.

The district agreed "not to initiate any disciplinary proceeding or other action against [the employees] regarding [their] 'outside work' prior to the date of execution of this agreement," the settlements state.

However, if the district learns that any of the administrators worked on the academy on any other district workdays dating back to Sept. 1, 2008, the district may still require them to forfeit days to compensate.