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As their candidate opts out, Buffalo School Board majority weighs options

Once again, the Buffalo School Board finds itself at a crossroads.

After the majority’s pick for superintendent indicated he no longer wants to be the hand-picked candidate for the job, their next move to fill the post upon Donald A. Ogilvie’s near departure raises many questions.

No one is offering a clear answer.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for them to realize a process may be needed,” said Ogilvie, who will leave the job at the end of June.

Board member Larry Quinn suggested late last week that the board will try to persuade Emerson School of Hospitality Principal James G. Weimer to reconsider and take the position.

The board majority also could go back to the district well, tapping a different internal candidate.

But after a contentious board meeting last week, some of the principals and administrators being courted for other top posts withdrew their interest.

And if the majority goes about the process the same way it did before – hand-picking a candidate without posting the job and conducting a formal search – it will likely find itself back in the same politically contentious position.

There is the possibility of an abbreviated national search, which could involve targeting and recruiting candidates with records for turning around struggling school systems.

Ogilvie and members of the board minority bloc seized on the latest uncertainty to renew their calls for a search, which could be done in as little as a month to make sure the candidate has time to prepare for the new school year.

“Based on these recent developments, along with my end date of July 1, I will recommend to the board that they quickly begin the process that was unanimously voted on last year, in a resolution brought forth by Dr. Theresa Harris-Tigg, to work with a facilitator in forming a vision statement and renewing a search for a permanent superintendent of the district,” Ogilvie said in a statement.

“The Board has the responsibility to work collaboratively to structure and initiate this process,” the minority bloc also noted in a joint statement.

Whether the board can set past differences aside and work together, however, is yet to be seen. Amid the uncertainty following Weimer’s backing out, board members continued to trade jabs via email and in the media.

“Mr. Weimer was the victim of a smear campaign designed and managed by NYSUT and BTF and heavily supported by members of our Board,” Quinn wrote in an email to his colleagues. “Mr. Weimer is an outstanding leader and educator. He was asked to explore the idea of applying for superintendent. For that he was pilloried by people that don’t deserve to have their names mentioned in the same breath so I won’t.”

Meanwhile, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown addressed the frustration and acrimony surrounding the schools during his budget presentation.

He reinforced that he is willing to step in and take over the district, should the community want him to and lawmakers in Albany sign off on special legislation.

“I am prepared to step in,” Brown said. “I think it can be turned around.”

The latest developments follow a tumultuous few weeks, when the board majority faced an increasing level of criticism over how it went about selecting its new leader. Board majority members originally conducted a search for deputy superintendent with the intention that that person would slide into the top job.

It became evident in recent weeks, however, they had their minds set on Weimer, touching off heated criticism both from members of the minority bloc and from the community who were not included in the decision process.

That bubbled over at last week’s School Board meeting, when dozens of people protested the board’s direction and called for a national search.

A major question remains as to whether the district will be able to attract strong candidates, given the political dynamics and growing pushback from the Buffalo Teachers Federation to the board majority.

Weimer apparently indicated that he no longer wanted to be the majority’s hand-picked candidate for the job following the board meeting, when community members hurled insults against him and criticized the fact that his wife previously worked for board member Carl Paladino.

Several School Board members have suggested that many of the people who spoke out at Wednesday’s meeting have ties to the teachers’ union, and accused its leaders of trying to obstruct them from moving forward.

“The one thing I’m very, very concerned about is the organized effort to destroy people, not because of their ideas, but because you want to deny them opportunities,” said board president James Sampson. “It’s unacceptable. The vast majority of people in attendance at board meetings are connected to Phil Rumore.”

“I have no interest in listening again to the illogical, caustic, unintelligible, racist rhetoric that I heard at the last meeting,” Paladino wrote in an email. “To abuse Mr. Weimer and his wife as was done was a clear statement to the community that the Board minority is in collusion with (union leaders) in their diabolical effort to maintain their empowerment and control of money and jobs to the detriment of the community. The status quo will change and the acrimony will continue as a necessary process to rid the School system of the evil that causes the dysfunction.”

Rumore, however, denied that he was behind any effort to protest how the board majority went about the superintendent selection process.

“How is BTF in any way involved in this?” Rumore asked. “What’s fascinating to me is that they set up a process, they kept everybody out of it, then people object to it and they try to blame those people. You’ve got to be kidding me.

“They created their own mess,” Rumore said. “And now they’re trying to blame someone else for it.”