The Buffalo school board elections in May could very well be a referendum on Superintendent Pamela Brown and the progress she says the district is making, against the backdrop of a September vote in which she barely avoided an ouster.
The board voted 5-4 at that time against terminating Brown’s contract, which runs through the 2014-15 school year.
But with three citywide at-large seats up for election, the chance to change the makeup of the board looms large.
“The community will have an opportunity to voice its opinion on how the district is being run over the last couple years this May,” said Robert Gioia, president and CEO of the John R. Oishei Foundation. “If the community is satisfied, fine. Quite frankly, we think we deserve more.”
Gioia led the recent effort, supported by a number of prominent business people in the community, to offer Brown a $500,000 buyout. She rejected the proposal.
Gioia said he doesn’t plan to take an active role in the upcoming elections, but forecasted that it will be a closely watched and contested campaign.
“Our role in the foundation is to provide sound education, from birth to career, and quite frankly the school system is failing us miserably in the school of Buffalo,” he said.
The superintendent called a news conference Monday to publicly rebuke the buyout offer, saying she never contemplated accepting it. Brown defended her record and said the district is showing progress on a number of fronts – including a rise in the graduation rate from about 47 percent to about 55 percent during her first year in office.
She could not be reached for comment on the upcoming elections.
Two incumbents up for re-election – board President Barbara Seals Nevergold and Florence Johnson – voted for Brown in September. They face the certainty of challengers backed by deep-pocketed Carl Paladino, a school board member, prominent local developer and frequent Brown critic, and possibly of other prominent members of the community who have worked to remove Brown in recent months.
A third at-large member up for re-election, John Licata, voted to terminate Brown’s contract in September. Paladino said he would not oppose a Licata re-election campaign.
Nevergold, Johnson and Licata could not be reached for comment Tuesday about their plans for May.
Paladino said he and others – whom he wouldn’t identify – are currently vetting challengers to Nevergold and Johnson. He said he’ll ensure those challengers will have the proper funding to run robust campaigns.
Then, if the board dynamic changes, Paladino said he’ll re-institute an effort their first day of office, July 1, to terminate Brown’s contract.
“We’re going to replace the leadership with an informed, educated, experienced superintendent,” he said. “And we’ll replace other people in the administration, who are lacking in their ability, with qualified people. Then we’ll allow them to do their job.”