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Koelmel denies interest in top school job

Add one more name to the list of local power brokers taking an interest in Buffalo’s public school system, although not necessarily as its leader.

The latest high-profile person rumored to be paying attention to the direction of the city schools is John R. Koelmel, who said this week he will be leaving his position as president of HarborCenter.

The former banker denied that he would be interested in taking over as superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools, and it does not appear he would have the support from members of the School Board anyway.

“I can’t imagine that that’s a position I’m remotely qualified for,” he said.

When he announced his resignation earlier this week, Koelmel fielded several questions from reporters about whether he might get involved with the city schools.

Koelmel responded that he is concerned about Buffalo schools, but he did not see himself getting involved at that level.

This is not the first time the name of a prominent business leader seemed to be floating behind the scenes in talks about how to turn around the struggling school system. In recent years, business leaders also have been in talks to appoint Alphonso O’Neil-White, former BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York executive, as the district’s chief financial officer to work alongside another leader with an academic background. That plan never went anywhere.

In recent months, however, as the new School Board majority has been slow to advance its reform agenda, business leaders have taken a renewed interest in the future of the district.

Earlier this year, M&T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers delivered a “state of the schools” address to an invitation-only crowd, calling on local leaders to come together and identify solutions.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appears poised to push for a mechanism for the state to step in, take over failing districts and appoint new leadership.

With interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie’s imminent departure, the board is in fact seeking a replacement.

It does not appear Koelmel is in the running, at least with members of the School Board.

“Over my dead body,” said Board Member Carl Paladino.