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Threatened with firing, Ogilvie plans to leave at school year’s end

Donald Ogilvie says he intends to leave as head of the Buffalo Public Schools when this school year ends after Carl Paladino demanded on Friday that he resign immediately.

The School Board member met with Ogilvie on Friday morning and informed him that, if he didn’t submit his resignation as the interim school superintendant by 4 p.m. Friday, Paladino would ask the board this week to vote to fire him.

Ogilvie did not submit his resignation. And it also appears unlikely that Paladino’s dismissal proposal will muster the necessary votes when the board meets Wednesday.

But as a result of Paladino’s actions, Ogilvie said he will leave the district sooner than later.

“In light of a serious confrontation with my future, initiated by Carl, I’m reassessing everything,” Ogilvie said. “But I’m committed to an orderly transition.”

While it has long been speculated that Ogilvie might stay only through the end of this school year, Ogilvie said he firmed up his position and has chosen to be more candid about it now that it’s clear that he doesn’t enjoy the same support from the board majority that he had when he entered office in July.

Initially, Ogilvie thought a two-year term would be a productive time frame, he said, but the past eight months have led him to believe otherwise.

Having previously counseled other superintendents in similar situations, the school leader said, “I’m going to take my own advice and that is to finish strong and to wrap things up in as orderly a way as I can.”

Paladino said Ogilvie has become an obstacle to making the dramatic reforms the district needs to move forward. Even waiting until June or July for Ogilvie to leave is too long, he said.

“I will be presenting a motion to terminate his employment effective immediately,” Paladino said. “I do what I think is right. I’ve reached the point where I felt betrayed. I feel there was a lot of treachery.”

It’s no secret that members of the board majority have been disappointed in Ogilvie’s performance on the job, saying they expected more sweeping and immediate changes than have occurred under Ogilvie’s leadership. Paladino said Ogilvie misrepresented his position when he met with the board majority prior to his appointment.

Board majority members were clear about their vision for the future, Paladino said, and Ogilvie led them to believe he was on board.

But over time, Ogilvie’s lack of enthusiasm for charter school takeovers, slow movement on school downsizing, and general unwillingness to fire administrators and reduce the size of the Central Office has frustrated the board majority.

“We’ve made some marginal kind of progress,” board President James Sampson said, “but not the kind of progress the community wants to see.”

That does not mean, however, that Sampson and all members of the board majority think it wise to abruptly dismiss their hand-picked leader.

“He’s been on for seven or eight months in the face of incredible obstacles,” Sampson said.

“We’ve achieved a number of things. We made a commitment to him; he’s made a commitment to us. To demand that he resign just creates another layer of chaos,” he added.

Members of the board minority bloc also have warmed up to Ogilvie as it became apparent that Ogilvie would not become a rubber stamp for the board majority’s demands.

Though Paladino’s call for dismissal appears likely to fail on Wednesday, it still will create unwanted complications in the board’s search for a deputy superintendent, someone who board majority members would like to see slide into Ogilvie’s seat as a permanent replacement. Given the politically volatile nature of the board, anyone applying for the deputy superintendent/superintendent-in-waiting position might well be concerned about their political shelf life.

“This whole situation, with Carl’s position, has just made the search for a deputy very narrow and very problematic,” Ogilvie said.

As of early Friday evening, eight candidates had applied for the job, Ogilvie said, but many had questions and few were related to academic goals or test scores.

Caught between factions

In response to Paladino’s assertions that Ogilvie was not upfront with the board about his lack of support for their agenda, Ogilvie said that he supported many different elements of the board majority’s plan and agrees that many ideas are good in concept, but he faced too many obstacles.

“I came in to a district that did not have key positions filled, and I was working uphill from Day 1,” he said. “I didn’t have a full board behind me at that time, and didn’t have all the human resources that I needed. It has taken a while to get a team together that was not only skilled but also bought into an approach to leading the district.”

That approach diverges strongly from the kind of tear-down-and-rebuild strategy board majority members had in mind, which Ogilvie described as “harsh and impatient.”

“This isn’t a hostile takeover,” Ogilvie said. “This is an effort to build a strong, enthusiastic, competent organization that will reflect those values with kids and bring new members of the organization into the future ... You can’t mandate change. You nurture change because you’re changing not only what the organization does and how it does it, but you’re changing individual people.”

Given his background as former superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES and his status as a longtime educator, Ogilvie said he was once confident that he could find a way to bring the board to a common middle ground on some key issues. But repeated attempts met with repeated failure.

“We got into old issues, and we could never out-race the past,” he said. “When you’re caught between factions on a board, it’s exhausting and it is disheartening, and it slows progress because you can’t invest in problem definition, problem solution or implementation.”

Paladino may seek receiver

From the board majority’s perspective, Ogilvie values board unity over decisive actions that can’t wait.

Paladino said that if his resolution to dismiss Ogilvie is not approved, he will call the Governor’s Office and push for the district to be taken over by a receiver.

“This board is going nowhere toward getting rid of the dysfunction of this district,” Paladino said, “and these kids should not wait for the board to get its act together and do what’s best for children.”

Ogilvie, though, pointed to the district’s improved relationship with the state Education Department and plans to revamp failing schools and expand some of the more popular academic programs in the district starting next school year.

Those are all positive steps, he said. If the board majority feels he should have adopted more of a take-no-prisoners approach, then they picked the wrong guy, he said.

“You don’t do things to people; you don’t do things to an organization. You immerse yourself in an organization, you understand the ethos and you build up,” he said.

“Once in the organization, I had to become part of it to achieve any of the accomplishments that need to be achieved. If it boils down to, I didn’t do things to people, then I’m not apologetic for that. I wouldn’t want to treat people that way, and I wouldn’t want to be treated that way.”