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Dysfunction has been the hallmark of search for Buffalo school superintendent

The Buffalo School Board wants Donald A. Ogilvie as superintendent. Then it doesn’t. The board wants to hire a deputy superintendent. Then it doesn’t.

Ogilvie is going to help change the direction of the district. Then he isn’t. Ogilvie is going to conduct a search for a deputy. Then he isn’t.

Dysfunction rules.

It’s a long-term and destructive trend that has gripped the Buffalo School District for years, seemingly without regard to who is serving on the board. It can be better or worse, but never good. Now, the board majority is about to hire a Buffalo school principal as its next superintendent, and there is no reason to believe the pattern will change. The good news – perhaps – is that if things don’t turn around now, a more significant change may be in the offing.

Under the circumstances, Ogilvie did the right thing this week by abandoning his search for a deputy superintendent. Whoever was hired for that position was going to become the next district leader, and there was, in fact, only one choice that the board would have accepted: James G. Weimer Jr. Had Ogilvie selected anyone else, that person would quickly have been frozen out, anyway. In the end, a professionally conducted search for a deputy was little more than a time-waster.

Now the board majority is free to take its next step – hiring Weimer – and, in that, it is taking a huge gamble. Weimer is the tremendously successful principal of the district’s Emerson School of Hospitality. He has performed wonders there and, in fairness, it is possible he can move the district in the direction it needs to go.

But the risk is great. There is a huge difference between running a school and running a district as sprawling and convoluted and, yes, as dysfunctional as Buffalo’s. An owner who turns around a failing car dealership is not going to be asked to run General Motors. It doesn’t translate.

The appropriate course would have been a focused, national search. That doesn’t mean posting an ad on Craigslist, but actually doing some research, finding out who has the necessary background and skills and then recruiting those who qualify. If Weimer was still the best, then so be it.

The problem, as Board member Larry Quinn recently observed, is that the district’s terrible but well-earned reputation has poisoned the well. It’s a buyer’s market for superintendents. They are in high demand and able to choose assignments less infuriating than trying to turn around a district that shows no real signs of wanting it.

So it might be true, as Quinn and the rest of the majority believe, that the only choice is to hire from within. If that is true, though, it is the fault of the board for fostering the district’s horrible reputation. And that leaves them to gamble on Weimer. Buffalo and the rest of Western New York can only hope he is up to the job.

It’s hard to shake the sense that some of the board’s hurry is driven by the state’s apparent interest in changing the district’s governance model to one of mayoral control. Is the board looking to move before Albany can make that change?

It may not matter much. The board – the entire board – and Weimer should approach the coming months as their last chance to produce. If still nothing happens, all should expect that their inability to perform could be the last bit of evidence that Albany needs to act.

There’s no guarantee mayoral control would produce better results, but there is also at least the possibility that it could. It may be grasping at straws, but straws are what seem to remain.