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Barbara Smith, Buffalo Public Schools’ second in command, announces resignation

The second in command at Buffalo Public Schools is calling it quits after 12 years with the district.

Barbara J. Smith, the chief financial officer and chief operating officer, submitted her resignation on Friday to Interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie. Her last day will be June 30.

Smith plans to open her own business – Barbara J. Smith Advisory Services – to provide financial consulting services to school districts and municipalities.

“I’m very excited,” Smith said in an interview Saturday. “It’s time to do something else.”

The news comes one week after Ogilvie announced he intends to leave at the end of the academic year after School Board Member Carl Paladino demanded he resign immediately. The Board of Education currently is searching for a new deputy superintendent to come onboard before Ogilvie resigns, with the hope that the new deputy superintendent will become Ogilvie’s permanent replacement.

Smith, 42, has overseen hundreds of millions of dollars in school budgets over the years. The current general fund budget is $806.6 million.

Smith started her career with the district as an external auditor. Five years later, in 2003, she became the controller. She became the chief financial officer in 2009 and under former Superintendent Pamela C. Brown, the position of chief operating officer was added to her title.

Smith has worked under seven schools chiefs, beginning with Marion Canedo, who held the superintendent position until she retired in 2004.

“It’s had its challenges,” Smith said of working under seven bosses. “Each one is different. Everyone has their own management style, and I think the fact that I’ve been able to work with seven says something.”

The number of superintendent and contentious school boards are not the primary reasons for her departure, she said, but they did play a role in the decision.

“The behavior of the board is by no means the deciding factor. There’s a lot of things” that helped shape her decision, Smith said. “I’ve thought about it for some time now.

But leaving won’t be easy, she added.

“I care deeply about the district, which is why I’ve stayed there as long as I have. But I’ve kind of reached the point where it’s time to go somewhere else,” she said.

Smith’s vast experience with the district will be useful in her new consulting business, in which she will provide services such as financial forecasting, budget planning and strategic analysis.

“I have great relationships with a lot of good people out there, and I know school districts just need that kind of extra help,” Smith said.

Whoever replaces Smith will have to contend not only with a combative board and a new superintendent, but also with such issues as regulations from the state Education Department, financial aid from the state and contracts, Smith said.

“Given the current state of affairs, it’s going to take some patience to deal with all the factors that influence finances on a daily basis,” Smith said.

District spokeswoman Elena Cala said Ogilvie was not available to comment Saturday.

School Board members Carl Paladino and Sharon Belton-Cottman said Smith’s departure will be a “great loss.”

“She’s one of the enlightened ones,” Paladino said. “I appreciate the time and effort she’s put in because she’s been very loyal to kids and to doing the right thing for kids. It’s going to be hard to replace her.”

Belton-Cottman said she had a feeling Smith was going to submit her resignation sooner rather later because of the increasing pressures that come with the job.

“It’s very upsetting that Barbara is leaving. We have a good working relationship,” Belton-Cottman said. “Barbara has been committed to children in the district. It’s a major loss.”

Patricia Bowers Pierce was elected to the School Board last May and hasn’t known Smith that long, but “I wish her all the best,” she said.

“I think it’s great when somebody recognizes, ‘You know what? I think it’s time for me to explore other opportunities,’ ” she added.

Board Member Larry Quinn said Smith has done a “good job,” but it’s time for the district to look forward.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for the district to get some fresh leadership at the top,” he said.

Board Member Barbara Seals Nevergold praised Smith as “a valued employee who has made major contributions to the district.”

“I’m very concerned that we’re losing Smith at a very crucial time for the district,” she added. “Her departure at the same time as Ogilvie and the likely departure of Chief Academic Officer Linda Cimunz creates an urgency for the board to revisit a nationwide search for a permanent superintendent.”

Board President James Sampson as well as board members Mary Ruth Kapsiak, Jay McCarthy and Theresa Harris-Tigg could not be reached to comment Saturday.