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Rare agreement by Buffalo School Board may be a hopeful sign of cooperation

Something like peace may be breaking out on the Buffalo School Board, at least for now. It would be risky to bet anyone’s diploma on the durability of this detente, but it offers hope that members understand the damage their policy of internal warfare has caused the district.

So let’s be optimistic. The board, which can hardly agree on the time of day, appears to be reaching a consensus on how to go about finding a superintendent to succeed Interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie when he steps down at the end of next month.

“I think it’s our every intention to work together,” said Board member Jason McCarthy, a member of the majority bloc. “Since this last resolution’s been passed and crafted, it’s my hope that we can all come together to choose the next superintendent.”

That resolution calls for a broad and open search for a new superintendent. It was offered by Board member Larry Quinn, who had previously supported a plan to appoint a district principal, James G. Weimer, as superintendent. That plan collapsed when Weimer decided, probably wisely, that he didn’t want the job.

Quinn’s move was a hopeful sign made even more so when a member of the board’s minority bloc endorsed it. “Since [Larry] Quinn came up with the resolution that was sort of along the same lines we were thinking, I thought we might come together and do this,” said Mary Ruth Kapsiak.

But the most civically useful part of her comment came in Kapsiak’s next observation: “That’s still my hope,” she said. “I hate to see anyone come in when we’re divided.”

In fact, it has been the board’s brutal and sometimes mindless divisions that have made hiring the right person challenging to the point of impossible. Many school districts are looking for capable superintendents and few are as dysfunctional as Buffalo’s. To take a position under such conditions makes success all but unattainable. Why bother when you can go to a district where board relations are less venomous?

Kapsiak’s comment shows that she understands the problem, as do other members. Quinn, in particular, has been declarative on the issue; the difficulty of attracting a superintendent from outside the district is one of the main reasons he initially supported the idea of hiring from within.

This is probably the best possible approach right now to finding the best possible superintendent for the district. Several candidates have made themselves known and at least some seem to have resumes that suggest the kind of skills Buffalo will need if it is to shake off its pattern of chronic malfunction.

What Buffalo residents really need to hope for now – and what board members need to commit to – is to build upon this success. No, it’s not earthshaking that the board has agreed on a process for finding a leader. It’s actually pretty rudimentary, but you take your successes as you find them. It’s an improvement, and the board should make a formal, declared point of seeking other areas where it can find consensus on other matters.

That requires trust and, if board members work at it, they can build some degree of it through this torturous process. They can at least try. If they don’t even do that, they aren’t worthy of the trust that district voters placed in them to ensure that Buffalo students get the best education possible. That’s the test, and it never changes.