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Behind the scenes in City Hall

These are interesting days in City Hall.

Amber Dixon is still technically the person running the district -- and will be, until Pamela Brown and the School Board sign a contract. That's expected to happen on July 11.

In the meantime, the board is paying Brown $800 a day (plus travel and lodging expenses) to act as a consultant during the transition.

Dixon and petrucciDixon cleared out of the seventh-floor superintendent's office on Friday. She's now working out of her former office on the eighth floor, where she's overseeing the operations of the district.

Brown on Monday began working out of the superintendent's office in Room 712, although she's technically a per diem consultant until she signs a contract as superintendent -- something that's expected to happen on July 11.

Plenty of people are talking privately about how things are more than a bit awkward, seeing as Dixon wanted the job that Brown got.

But nobody seems to be acknowledging that publicly.

Yesterday, Dixon took the seat at the head of the board table, next to then-board President Lou Petrucci. The two of them (pictured above right) were all smiles in public, although both knew their time at the head of the table was not going to last long.

The board clearly had already determined who was going to be its next president, well before the public vote was taken -- in keeping with past practice, and likely in violation of the state's open meetings law. Two people were nominated: Petrucci and Mary Ruth Kapsiak.

Brown and kapsiakWith absolutely no discussion, the vote was taken first for Kapsiak. It passed 6-3, with Petrucci, John Licata and Jason McCarthy voting no.

It's probably safe to say the outcome of the vote was not a surprise, seeing as Kapsiak's husband was in the audience, ready for the big moment.

This will be Kapsiak's third term as president. (Here she is, to the right of the new superintendent, after the board meeting.)

Kapsiak tells me her main goal for the board this coming year is to play a supporting role for Brown.

"I'm there to help, not to make decisions for her," the new board president said.

After the board meeting, I caught Brown as she and some others were enjoying the congratulations cake in honor of Kapsiak's election.

I was trying to figure out what the latest was with Lafayette High School. The district, I had heard, had filed a teacher eval plan by the close of business on Monday -- just in the nick of time -- but I wasn't clear on whether Johns Hopkins University had agreed to specifics regarding its involvement as the group that had been identified to run the school for the coming year.

And so I asked Brown what the status of Johns Hopkins was.

She wasn't sure, she told me.

"I'm going to have to get up to speed on that," she said.

And at that point, district spokeswoman Elena Cala gave me a good-natured ribbing about giving the new superintendent a break and letting her catch her breath a little before I start launching questions at her.

There's no doubt that the learning curve facing Brown is a huge one -- like any urban district, Buffalo has a host of challenges to tackle. Some would even say that the nuances and details here in Buffalo might prove to be even more challenging than in most.

But here's the thing: there are more than 32,000 kids in the Buffalo schools. And they don't have the luxury of waiting to start second grade or seventh grade or tenth grade until someone in City Hall figures it all out.

So let's hope Brown is a quick study.

- 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 |