The latest report of dissatisfaction with the interim superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools is dismaying, to say the least, and another setback in the effort to improve education in the city.
This is an emergency, and one of the School Board’s making. Donald A. Ogilvie took the job less than a year ago, intending to stay two years. Now he’ll be gone by the end of the school year if he goes on his terms, or immediately if board member Carl Paladino, echoing frustration by some other majority board members who recruited Ogilvie, has his way.
With Ogilvie’s departure looming, board members need to step up efforts to find a permanent replacement. That means conducting a nationwide search to find the right person, someone with high-level experience in a large district and a track record of turning around failing schools. This job cannot be an introduction to management course for the new superintendent. It won’t be easy to find this person, but Buffalo’s schoolchildren deserve nothing less.
Meanwhile, educators, elected officials, parents and others should keep up the pressure for creation of a mechanism for possible federal or state takeover of the district. The threat of the loss of local control could be the hammer needed to force the necessary changes in the district.
Paladino’s passion is legendary. So are his methods. His ultimatum the other day that Ogilvie resign immediately or be fired was flat-out wrong. In no way does the interim superintendent, who did not have to take on the task of temporarily heading this dysfunctional district, deserve that sort of treatment by a single board member.
Former superintendent Pamela C. Brown was forced to the exit by a new board majority that included Paladino. Paladino and the rest of his bloc hand-picked Ogilvie, the former superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES. Ogilvie had considered two years to be a reasonable period of time to begin turning the district around while a permanent replacement was sought. But district leaders remain mired in educational quicksand, unable to work together to make decisions based solely on what is good for students.
Ogilvie has not been the slash-and-burn administrator the board majority perhaps had hoped for. He has worked with the board minority bloc, taking on tasks and weighing options without regard to who proposed them. Paladino and others on the board would prefer more urgency and fire – literally. Fire more in the top-heavy administrative ranks. Clean house. Push charter school takeovers and school downsizing. Something.
The frustration felt by a number of groups is palpable, except there is little agreement on how to solve the problem. The District Parent Coordinating Council may be on record supporting a receiver, but some of its own members say that opinion is not unanimous. The Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization held its own news conference opposing the DPCC’s plan, and the teachers union is unsurprisingly dead set against any takeover.
Many had hoped Ogilvie could make more progress. He may have thought the same thing, but he got more than he bargained for when he walked in the door. He said: “I came in to a district that did not have key positions filled, and I was working uphill from Day 1.”
Ogilvie has promised “an orderly transition.” Now it is up to the board to find, through a thorough search, the person who will pick up from here and take the district to educational respectability. Paladino is right that the kids should not have to wait, but peremptorily dismissing the interim superintendent will not help that cause.
Firing Ogilvie will only add to the pressure to hire someone and make it more likely that the board will settle on a candidate without the proper credentials.