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Supporter of Dixon to push for 2-year pact Board member to offer bid at tonight's meeting

A Buffalo School Board member plans to introduce a measure to his colleagues tonight offering interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon a two-year contract to lead the district.

Jason McCarthy said the district needs the stability that could be realized by keeping Dixon at the helm for two years.

"I think we're in a time of crisis," he said. "We have the leadership in place who's doing well throughout this crisis. Amber is working well with the parents, the community, the principals, the teachers. Everyone you seem to talk to is happy with the job she's doing so far."

In a letter this week to School Board President Louis J. Petrucci, McCarthy, who represents the North District, said he will make a motion tonight that would give Petrucci the power to negotiate a contract with Dixon for up to two years.

The nine-member board is split on whether to offer Dixon a contract as permanent superintendent.

Some members note that the board agreed last fall to hire a consultant to conduct a superintendent search, and they want to see that process through. The board is scheduled to interview four search firms on Saturday.

"I want to proceed with the superintendent search," said Sharon Belton Cottman, who represents the Ferry District.

"We already agreed as a board we were going to do this. We can't keep changing our minds about things. Everyone is entitled to submit their application and interview for the job. If after we do the search, Amber rises to the top, then she gets the nod."

Dixon declined to comment for this story. She recently said she would like to be considered for the permanent superintendent job.

McCarthy said the board should make the decision to offer Dixon a contract now, before it signs a contract with a search firm. He said the board should not be spending up to $100,000 on a search when the district is looking at a $42 million deficit next year and likely teacher layoffs.

It appears uncertain whether McCarthy will be able to line up the five votes he needs to offer Dixon a contract.

Bringing the issue to a vote could prove potentially embarrassing, if the vote fails, one board member said.

"If there is a vote and it goes down, then it shows the superintendent does not have enough votes to remain superintendent," said West District representative Ralph R. Hernandez, adding that he would vote in support of offering Dixon a contract. "The last thing we want, because of a vote like that, is to show the superintendent doesn't have the support of the board."

The board sidestepped a similar situation in December, when Petrucci was one of more than a dozen people who applied and interviewed for an at-large vacancy on the board. He lacked the votes to secure the seat, but rather than having that reflected in a formal vote, Petrucci withdrew his name from consideration at the last minute.

Talk of offering Dixon a two-year contract has been quietly circulating among some board members for a few weeks.

Her current $175,000 contract does not specify an end date but indicates she will serve on an interim basis until a permanent superintendent is appointed. At that point, she would return to her previous position as a central office administrator.

Among the search firms the board is scheduled to interview is Cascade Consulting, a firm working with Say Yes to Education, the nonprofit that has announced it will work with the city's schools over the next six years.

East District representative Rosalyn L. Taylor, the board's vice president for executive affairs, unveiled a timeline last fall that would have a new superintendent in place by July 1. But that timeline has fallen about two months behind. Taylor has said that other issues in the district, including school improvement plans, took precedence and pushed the search back.

McCarthy said he is concerned that the delay will adversely affect the applicant pool. Because other districts will be ahead of Buffalo in their searches, they will get their choice of the best candidates, he said, and Buffalo will have to choose from those who were not hired by other districts.