A Buyout? Really, What Will They Think of Next!
by Barbara Seals Nevergold
On Sunday morning, December 29, 2013, the Buffalo News printed a front-page headline proclaiming that Buffalo Schools Superintendent Pamela Brown had been offered a buyout. The story, subtitled “Community Leaders hope to entice Brown to resign with $500,000 package,” proceeded to name Robert D. Gioia, head of the Oishei Foundation, as the individual coordinating the effort to raise money from “deep-pocketed,” i.e. wealthy, community members. Why do these wealthy “community leaders” want to buy-out Dr. Brown and send her packing? According to the article, they claim “she doesn’t communicate effectively, sometimes blindsides key players with decisions such as closing schools or adding dozens of staff to the payroll without first finding money to do so.” Further, the critics cite that the “state has criticized the lack of academic progress at several schools and rejected several versions of a plan to accommodate students wanting to transfer out of the lowest-performing schools.”
Regent Robert Bennett, a member of the Oishei board of directors and another critic often citing the problems of the district, is also quoted noting that the “evidence is quite overwhelming” that Buffalo is a failing district. As a result, Regent Bennett indicates that Buffalo is a district prime for state takeover. Quite frankly, if the state is looking to take over failing school districts, it should look to Rochester and Syracuse in addition to Buffalo. But, I digress. And there’s more, from the usual suspects with the usual complaints.
But the criticisms, the finger-pointing, and the calculated ignorance of any progress made under Dr. Brown’s leadership are not new. Nor is there any reasonable recognition that the problems Dr. Brown is charged with fixing are long-standing and resistant to a quick fix. Certainly 18 months is hardly enough time to turn a district around that has been struggling for years. This latest tactic in the move to force Dr. Brown out of her position is outrageous and unconscionable. It cloaks an obvious insulting and degrading offer in the supposed well-meaning action of concerned and frustrated community leaders, who are only thinking of the school district. But they make the assumption that Dr. Brown could be bought for one-half million dollars. What price does one put on another person’s integrity? To further compound the insidious nature of this “offer,” Dr. Brown was not the first to know. It appears, thanks to the Buffalo News and other media, the entire city knew of the buyout plans before she did. To Dr. Brown’s credit, she has once again confirmed her intention to stay the course and her commitment to the children of this district.
Interestingly but not surprisingly, the newspaper article never mentions or examines how the disruption created by forcing the superintendent to leave in mid-year might affect the children of the district. Nor is there any indication who these leaders have selected to replace her. Oh, and by the way, what role do they expect the Board of Education to play in this entire process? According to Mr. Gioia, the board “should be ashamed of themselves.” Presumably we should have fired the superintendent earlier. What is the rest of the plan? How will the void be filled? There is no discussion of the next steps, although one can imagine that the same community leaders have thought about what happens next and none of their plans have included you or me. So much for transparency!
Barbara Seals Nevergold, PhD, president, Buffalo Board of Education
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