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Arbitrator's ruling against principal quiets McKinley controversy – for now

Months of mounting pressure to oust the principal at McKinley High School has not worked, but an arbitrator’s ruling just might.

The arbitrator has ruled that the Buffalo Public Schools must appoint a more senior administrator to lead the school on Elmwood Avenue, where embattled Principal Marck Abraham has been under fire from the teachers union.

Abraham served as an assistant principal at the school prior to replacing longtime McKinley Principal Crystal Barton, who has been on paid leave for nearly two years while under investigation by the school district.

But the Buffalo Council of Supervisors and Administrators, the principal’s union that has Barton as its president, filed a grievance asserting that another McKinley assistant with more tenure than Abraham should have been awarded the position.

Arbitrator Timothy Taylor sided with the union.

“The arbitrator ruled that there was clear evidence that the parties had a practice of appointing the most senior assistant principal to a temporary principal position and they did not in this case,” said Robert Boreanaz, attorney for the union.

“The district placed the person they wanted in that position to replace Ms. Barton rather then what the contract required,” Boreanaz said.

The ruling is significant because the Buffalo Teachers Federation has spent months calling for Abraham's removal, alleging a lack of discipline at McKinley and that the school is "out of control" under Abraham’s leadership. His defenders say the mudslinging has been a political ploy by the union to bring back Barton.

In the past, the school district has dragged its feet when confronted with unfavorable arbitrations, so if necessary the supervisors union will ask for a court order forcing the district to appoint Naomi Cerre as the school's temporary principal, Boreanaz said.

“At this point we're in the process of reviewing that decision and weighing our options of an appeal,” said Nathaniel J. Kuzma, general counsel for the Buffalo Public Schools.

Kuzma pointed out that there recently was a separate, but similar arbitration, at Bennett High School where a different arbitrator sided with the school district.

“We’re really perplexed how two decision-makers receiving a similar set of facts and circumstances can come to two different decisions,” Kuzma said.

When asked about the district's case against Barton, Kuzma said she is still on paid administrative leave. District records from January show Barton has been paid more than $229,000 while on leave.

Barton, principal at McKinley since 1987, was placed on paid administrative leave on May 11, 2017, after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of a McKinley student who alleged discrimination against LGBTQ students during her tenure.

In a settlement, the school district agreed to a number of terms and the NYCLU eventually dropped its case.

But Barton – who maintains that the allegations against her were unfounded – did not return to McKinley, and she instead became the target of a broader school district probe involving the alleged misuse of funds during her time as principal.

The union was in court earlier this month arguing for Barton's return to work.

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