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Community groups to pack Buffalo School Board meeting over search for new superintendent

The room will be packed Wednesday night with community groups and parent leaders demanding to be part of the process before the Buffalo School Board majority picks a new superintendent.

The Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization, Citizen Action, the Alliance for Quality Education and PUSH Buffalo are adding their voices to the growing discontent over the process.

“What we’re really calling for is a comprehensive, transparent process inclusive of the entire board and community,” said Larry Scott, co-chairman of the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization.

At least 100 people are expected to attend the event, which begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, 450 Masten Ave., an hour before the 5:30 School Board meeting.

Specifically, the groups want to be able to provide input on the selection criteria and interview process. And they want the candidates to appear before the entire School Board and the community before one is appointed.

“Our focus from the onset of being engaged in this process is about community. Whose voice is in the process? What the opportunities are for communities to interact with the process?” said Aaron Bartley, PUSH Buffalo executive director. “Where is room for folks who live in our neighborhoods to be a part of the process? Is there really an intention to include the community voice in thinking about the future of our schools?”

Wednesday’s rally comes as the board majority – President James M. Sampson, Patricia Pierce, Lawrence Quinn, Jason M. McCarthy and Carl P. Paladino – proceeds with plans to appoint James G. Weimer Jr., principal of the Emerson School of Hospitality, as the district’s next superintendent. That could happen next month. Members of the board majority are working with Weimer to put together a leadership team.

“We know the board will determine ultimately what the process will be. We want a say,” Scott said.

“If they’re going to handpick somebody, if that person truly is the right leader who wants to bring the board together and move forward, then I think he, as a leader, should appear in front of the community so we can get to know him and hear what he has to say,” he said.

The rally is part of the growing community opposition to the board majority’s selection process. Three weeks ago, the Concerned Clergy Coalition of Western New York organized a rally on the steps of City Hall to push the board to conduct a national search for a new superintendent.

That demonstration came roughly a week after the board’s minority bloc – Barbara Seals Nevergold, Sharon Belton-Cottman, Theresa Harris-Tigg and Mary Ruth Kapsiak – called for community support in asking for a national search, saying that it had been shut out of the selection process.

But Scott made it clear that his organization is not calling for a national search for a superintendent.

“We just believe it should be comprehensive and an open public process that the entire board is a part of,” he said.

Engaging in such a process would be the “fair” thing,” said Jim Anderson, state vice president of Citizen Action and a founding director of the Alliance for Quality Education.

“It’s a doggone good idea to cast the net wide and broad. It doesn’t stop anyone local from applying. It gives us a better chance to get the best of what we can get,” Anderson said.

But other parent activists say the rally comes too late to make a difference.

“Rallying in this particular case is not going to change the fact that a minimum of five people will determine who the next superintendent will be,” said Samuel L. Radford III, referring to the board majority. Radford is president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, which is pushing the district on other issues.

Asked about whether Wednesday’s rally would have an impact on the majority’s plans, Sampson, the School Board president, said he had no response.