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Take some time; School Board shouldn't be careening into decision on a new superintendent

If the fix is not in, the Buffalo School Board is going out of its way to make it look that way. Not only has the board violated the state open meetings law in its process for selecting a new superintendent, but it plans to interview the last of three candidates today and then, hardly leaving time to take a breath, move immediately to make a decision — all in less than two weeks since it named the three finalists.

No one wants to see this matter dragged out longer than necessary, but prudence requires more than the quick perusal that appears to describe this process. Surely, there is some need for greater deliberation. This, after all, is likely to be the most significant decision the School Board will make for years.

That is not intended as a slight of any of the candidates, who include Amber Dixon, Buffalo's interim superintendent; Edward Newsome Jr., assistant superintendent for high schools in Baltimore County, and Pamela C. Brown, former assistant superintendent in Philadelphia. While some critics complain that none of the three candidates has ever been hired as a superintendent, the likelihood is that such a candidate would have come from a smaller district — and critics would have complained about that, too. The universe of candidates who can be lured to this tortured school district is going to be limited.

Frankly, while each of these candidates brings certain strengths to the table, the community knows too little about the outside candidates to judge whether they are the leaders Buffalo needs. Any of them, including Dixon, could be effective, but this selection process is doing little to rally the public support that a new school leader will need.

And, as we have previously observed, there are reasons to question each of the candidates. Dixon was unable to conclude an agreement on teacher evaluations until days ago, leading to speculation that Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore was angling to get her the job. Newsome's district, while huge, isn't urban, and Brown, whose work background is urban, no longer works for a school district.

The board's problem with the state Open Meetings Law, meanwhile, might be considered technical, but it nonetheless demonstrates an inherent disregard for public input. The board interviewed candidates privately. The law allows such private interviews, but only after convening a public meeting, then moving into an executive session. That didn't happen.

Similarly, if the board meets today to discuss which candidate to hire without first convening a legal meeting, it will again violate the law, said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government.

Perhaps that means nothing to the board. After all, the method by which it meets probably won't influence the decision it makes. But to Buffalo residents and taxpayers who are anxious for the district to start providing the quality of education to which New York students are entitled, the board looks like it is pursuing this matter unprofessionally. Students are expected to follow the rules, and so are School Board members.

The selection of a new superintendent shouldn't be dragged out endlessly, but the board should at least follow the law and, more than that, it should take enough time to build public confidence in what is truly a momentous decision.