For more than two months, Buffalo Superintendent James A. Williams has thumbed his nose at federal grant guidelines that require districts to remove any principal who has been at a "persistently lowest-achieving" school for more than two years. All along, though, he knew he was gambling with as much as $42 million in school improvement grant funds.
"We probably won't even get funding . . . because I'm not following their script," he said in July, referring to the state Education Department and the federal government.
Well, it turned out he was right. The state denied Buffalo's application last week. Even at that point, though, when pressed on the point, Williams refused to say he would have to move the principals at Burgard, Riverside and International School 45.
That changed today, when State Education Commissioner David M. Steiner (center) came to town and told the superintendent there were no two ways about it. During private sessions this morning involving Steiner, senior deputy commissioner John B. King Jr. (left), assistant commissioner Ira Schwartz (right), and some of Buffalo's senior administrators, state officials said -- again -- that there was nothing to negotiate.
Williams finally cried uncle, saying that talks are under way between the district and the principals union to "come up with structure to remove the principals from the building, and outline how that's going to be done and what's going to happen to the people we remove."
For those who are interested in hearing the nitt-gritty for themselves, here's a recording of the full 90-minute Board of Education meeting with Steiner:
So it seems the district is back on track to getting as much as $42 million to help turn those schools around -- great news to Buffalo Board of Education members, as well as taxpayers who couldn't understand how the struggling district could afford to walk away from such a mountain of money.
But there remains one nagging question through this whole thing: Why was Williams so fiercely opposed to moving Florence Krieter (Burgard), Colleen Carota (International School 45) and Michael Mogavero (Riverside)?
The whole time the superintendent insisted on keeping the three of them in place, he made no bones about his plans to yank Fatima Morrell, who had been principal at Lafayette less than two years when it landed on the state's list of failing schools. What makes the whole thing curious: Federal guidelines required him to remove Carota, Krieter and Mogavero -- but not Morrell.
Morrell will finish out the 2010-11 school year at Lafayette. During summer 2011, the school will be closed and reconfigured, and Morrell will apparently be reassigned -- although it's not clear whether she will end up at another school or in an administrative position in City Hall.
As for the other three, they were supposed to have been taken out of their respective schools before the 2010-11 year began this month. But that didn't happen. Now that Williams has agreed to remove them, it's unclear how quickly that will take place. And, as with Morrell, it's unclear where they will end up.
-- Mary Pasciak