She's a survivor.
An old-school principal with her fair share of supporters -- and enemies, too.
Crystal Boling-Barton has been one of the Buffalo city schools' most controversial figures for decades.
The controversy only grew in May, when the district suspended her after a student filed a federal lawsuit claiming LGBTQ students were "humiliated" and treated as "second-class citizens" at McKinley High School.
But eight months later, Barton appears no closer to returning to McKinley.
The 7 Eyewitness News I-Team has learned the district's investigation has expanded from the LGBTQ issue to other allegations made against the principal. Barton is also under investigation for $22,000 in potentially questionable purchases she made using public funds, district lawyers said in court Thursday morning.
The result is a lengthy suspension that has taxpayers paying Barton big bucks to stay at home on suspension.
Barton made more than $152,000 last year, including more than $95,000 the district says it paid her during her ongoing suspension.
The initial suspension
Barton's has been McKinley principal for 30 years, but parents like Kattie Eichinger say McKinley is doing just fine without her.
“My son is much happier now that Mrs. Barton is no longer here,” Eichinger said. “The school itself seems to be calmer. coming home and hearing some of the stories that the kids were telling me, it's just...unbelievable.”
But Barton’s supporters say the stability she created at McKinley is slipping away.
“I think it's a crime,” parent volunteer Sheila Jones said of the suspension. “It's the number one school, most kids want to go to that school. Parents want them to go to that school, too, because there is structure and respect and discipline.”
They blame the controversy on disgruntled teachers who don't agree with Barton’s style of tough love.
“She believes that the teachers make a difference in the classroom,” said former Lackawanna school superintendent Nellie B. King, who has known Barton for decades. “And if she has a teacher who does not make a difference with kids, she will ask you to ask for a transfer.”
Barton has hired one of the region's top criminal defense attorneys in a move that signals she won't be pushed out without a fight.
“Mrs. Barton is not going anywhere,” said Robert Boreanaz, who is fighting Barton’s legal battle in state court. “She is going to remain principal for as long as she can.”
Boreanaz called the notion that she would discriminate against LGBTQ students “ridiculous.”
"It flat out did not happen,” Boreanaz said. “If you went into her office, you would see a rainbow flag in her office.”
Barton's camp is pointing blame at superintendent Kriner Cash. They point to recently obtained emails they say prove "collusion" between the district and the lawyer from the New York Civil Liberties Union who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the student.
One email from a district attorney to the student's attorney states..."Off the record, filing a complaint might be helpful."
Boreanaz’s theory is that the district encouraged the student to file the suit as an excuse for the district to get rid of Barton – a veteran administrator who is also president of the district administrators union.
“We believe the superintendent's office was more than happy to have a lawsuit filed that might try and snare up Crystal Barton, who has been a fierce advocate for principals and administrators as the union president for years, often tangling with the superintendent,” he said.
In response, Cala, the district spokeswoman, said in a statement, “It is the general practice of the district to ensure that prior to commencing an investigation of this severity and magnitude, that an actionable complaint from an impacted individual or individuals be filed. At the time we were approached by the NYCLU, they were not representing such..”
She added, “Discrepancies are investigated as a matter of course via routine internal reviews or are triggered by information coming in from the field. Before the District opens an investigation that will potentially disrupt a school community or that commits District resources, a complaint must be levied.”
The New Allegations
Barton made $22,000 in purchases using student activity funds over a period of 10 years, Buffalo Public Schools General Counsel Nathaniel Kuzma said in court Thursday morning.
Barton’s attorney Robert Boreanaz called the revelation before State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin "absolutely irresponsible" and said the allegations were "completely, totally unfounded."
He said the purchases were made for an exhibit on African-American history and culture and said she has submitted receipts for the purchases.
"The district is on a witch hunt," he said. "One thousand percent she did not use district funds for anything other than educational purposes."
District officials say the items were stored in an off-site storage locker to which no one from the district other than Barton has access.
Lawyers for Barton and for the school district appeared before the judge Thursday morning to argue whether Barton should be re-instated as principal.
Devlin ruled in the district's favor so she remains on administrative leave as the second investigation (involving the $22,000 in purchases) carries forward.
"You can't bring Crystal down -- no way."
Don Van Every is one of the few people who saw both sides of Barton during his 10 years on the Buffalo School Board.
“She and her staff were good at foraging to help kids find a place to land,” Van Every said. “On the other hand, if you didn't get along with her, she was pretty tough, especially on kids that were vulnerable.”
One student in particular -- Jayvonna Kincannon -- comes to mind.
Kincannon crossed Barton 10 years ago as a student and found herself suspended from school and at the center of a controversy that grabbed headlines for months.
Van Every left the school board right before that controversy erupted and he wasn't surprised to see Barton making a point -- and not backing down.
“In those things, she was very strong and very opinionated and very clearly not going to give an inch,” he said.
King added, “You can't bring Crystal down -- no way. No matter what the outcome will be, Crystal will be still standing, mark my words.”
Charlie Specht is the lead Investigative Reporter for the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team. Photojournalist Jeff Wick assisted with the editing of this story.
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