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Dixon named to fill in as school chief after Williams Union offers to help restore jobs of 117 laid-off teachers

A longtime School District employee and member of Superintendent James A. Williams' cabinet was chosen Wednesday as his interim replacement.

The Buffalo Board of Education voted 7-0 to appoint Amber Dixon. Florence Johnson, a member at large, and Sharon Belton-Cottman, who represents the Ferry District, abstained.

The expected announcement followed a surprise offer by the Buffalo Teachers Federation to cover half of the $5.8 million needed to bring back 117 teachers laid off earlier this month.

The offer, presented by Philip Rumore, the union's president, would relieve the district of paying $2.9 million of the amount the union would collect if it triumphs in a federal court suit over a previous wage freeze.

The district has set aside about $55 million in case it comes out on the losing end.

The board had no immediate comment on the offer and set a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Friday to consider that and other ideas as it tries to resolve the status of the laid-off teachers.

Dixon's temporary appointment will take effect after Williams marks his last day Sept. 15. She was chosen after being interviewed by the board in executive session. Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes also interviewed her.

"I'm humbled by your confidence and look forward to working with all the elements of the community," Dixon said to the board, moments after being chosen. "I promise I will give you every effort I can. Thank you for your confidence, and I accept the challenge."

Dixon, who has been executive director of evaluation, accountability and project initiatives, began her district career as a math teacher at School 4. After teaching for 10 years, she held a number of administrative jobs on a path that led to becoming one of the district's highest-ranking officials.

Dixon received three promotions under Williams. Sources described her as a consensus builder, soft-spoken and approachable, as well as someone who keeps a low profile -- qualities that all contrast sharply with the legacy Williams is leaving.

The Buffalo native graduated from Holy Angels Academy and earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education at Medaille College and a master's in math education from the University at Buffalo.

Rumore, who has frequently clashed with Williams, said the union's offer was being extended in the hope that the teachers union could get a fresh start with the district with Williams' departure.

"We're doing this because we're going to have a new superintendent, and I think it's time that we start a whole new era of good will and working together. And these teachers are important to the kids. We've met them halfway, and it's a win-win situation," Rumore said.

The teacher union's offer was made with stipulations.

They include returning the laid-off teachers to their previous teaching positions, restoring 11 attendance teachers and agreeing not to lay off teachers during the upcoming school year. Other issues involve arbitration, seniority issues at Pfc. William J. Grabiarz School 79 and regular meetings between the board and the union.

James Moses, one of six faculty members laid off at City Honors, had hoped, in vain, for good news from Wednesday's proceedings -- most of which, for the first three hours, were held in executive session behind closed doors.

"I love my job," said Moses, who teaches International Baccalaureate world literature and ninth-grade English. "I wake up every morning and love getting out of bed to do what I do every day. It's more than a job, it's my career, and it's a passion for what I do."

email: msommer@buffnews.com