Pamela C. Brown has been offered a mouth-watering half-million dollar package by disgruntled members of Buffalo’s business community to resign as city school superintendent – an offer she is unlikely to take.
As suggested by several sources, the president of the Oishei Foundation, Robert D. Gioia, has been pulling the strings, coordinating the effort to raise money from deep-pocketed community members who are unhappy with Brown’s performance. Brown’s failure to communicate effectively, sometimes blindsiding key players with decisions such as closing schools or adding dozens of staff to the payroll without first finding the money to do so, has been the reason for these critics. The state has criticized the lack of academic progress at several schools under her leadership, as well as rejecting several versions of a plan to accommodate students wanting to transfer out of the lowest-performing schools. Additionally, echoing the voices of state education leaders who for years have pushed for the ability to take over struggling districts, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called for strict penalties for schools and districts that fail to show improvement.
“Buffalo has been identified by nearly every indicator,” said Robert Bennett, chancellor emeritus to the New York State Board of Regents, which governs the state’s school systems. “The evidence is quite overwhelming.”
Bennett was among seven sources who are aware that negotiations have taken place, and at least three said that Mayor Byron W. Brown has been involved in the process, serving as a liaison between the superintendent and business leaders in the negotiations.
“The mayor has many of the same concerns and frustrations as parents do when it comes to our schools,” said the mayor’s spokesman, Michael J. DeGeorge. “He and Superintendent Brown talk on a regular basis on a variety of topics and those conversations will remain private.”
The superintendent maintains that she has no intention of leaving her position. She issued a statement highlighting her successes since becoming superintendent in July 2012 in response to a request for an interview. She said a decrease in short-term suspensions and chronic absenteeism and an increase in student enrollment was among those accomplishments. She also pointed to the increase in graduation rate, along with the percentage of students passing state English and math exams in the 11th grade as another highlight of her accomplishments.
“Many achievements that we have already enjoyed as a district are noted and recorded as irrefutable proof that we are on the right track,” Brown said in the statement. “If anyone would threaten the continuation of this kind of progress with the discussion of a buyout or any other means of undermining the positive change that is underway, his/her motive should be questioned.”
According to Mary Pasciak of The Buffalo News, in her contract that runs through July 2015, Brown earns $217,500 a year. Brown’s intention to stay was reaffirmed by School Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold, who said that she had been approached several months ago and informed of an outside effort to buy out the superintendent.
“The superintendent and I certainly talk,” Nevergold said. “I know she has no plans to leave the district.”
$500,000 is her proposed buyout which is believed to be on the table for a limited time. That money would be raised by the school district, Robert G. Wilmers, the CEO of M&T Bank, and Gioia, who heads the Oishei Foundation, which has a history of financing educational initiatives in Buffalo.
The proposed buyout follows months of tension surrounding the Buffalo schools and Brown’s leadership. Additionally, New York Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. lacks confidence that the Buffalo School District will improve its struggling schools despite extraordinary intervention and technical resources provided by the state.