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Buffalo's slow and rocky road to finding a superintendent

We're a day away from learning the names of the three final superintendent candidates. (Well, make that two -- we already know Amber Dixon is one of the three.)

While we don't yet know who all three are, we do know something about how we arrived at them.

It's safe to say that the superintendent search has not gone very smoothly.

First, the search got off to a slow start.

School boardThe School Board knew in mid-August that James Williams would be leaving -- that's when they approved his buyout.

But the board didn't take steps to start a search then.

Dixon took over as interim superintendent in mid-September -- but the board didn't start a search then either.

The board, in fact, waited until the end of September to adopt a timeline for the search. The board at that point decided to issue a request for proposals from search firms in October.

As things unfolded, the board didn't do that until November. And then, once the proposals came in toward the end of November, the board waited more than two months before interviewing search firms. That's right -- it took the board more than five months from the time it approved Williams' buyout before the board sat down to decide who to hire to conduct the search.

Now it's past mid-May, and the board is bringing in finalists to interview -- something that search consultant Lee Pasquarella says is done in most districts in March or April.

What does that mean?

It means most other districts have already made their decisions by now. All these districts are generally competing for the same candidates. Rosalyn Taylor, the board's vice president, acknowledged that Buffalo lost several candidates for a variety of reasons -- including the fact that some had already taken positions elsewhere.

In other words, Buffalo's lack of urgency cost the district some candidates that other districts decided to scoop up in the meantime.

We also know that while Buffalo has been spinning its wheels since December over the teacher evaluation issue, plenty of the city's superintendent candidates have been following the situation -- from the clashes between the teachers union and the state Education Department to the loss of Johns Hopkins University as a partner at two schools to the continued uncertainty over millions in state and federal funds this year and next.

That, too, has cost the district some candidates.

And let's not forget that in the middle of it all, Pasquarella -- the president of Cascade Consulting Group, whom the board hired to find the next superintendent -- made a point of telling the board that after hearing from more than 400 people in the community, he concluded that Buffalo is in worse shape than pretty much any of the other 200 districts across the country he's worked with.

(Also worth noting: turnout at the community forums for input on the search process was so poor that it left the board and the consultant scratching their heads, wondering -- after the fact -- what went wrong.)

"It is fair to say, based on the surveys you will see and focus groups, nobody is happy with the conditions of the schools today," Pasquarella told the board in March. "Board members are not happy. Teachers are not happy. Union people are not happy. Leadership in the community is not happy."

Will any of that change with the results of the superintendent search? Stay tuned.

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |