BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The former head of Erie 1 BOCES has been named the new interim superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools.
In a 5-0-4 vote Wednesday night, with five voting for and four abstaining, Donald Ogilvie was approved for the position. He takes over the reins from interim superintendent Will Keresztes, an assistant superintendent who took over on a temporary basis after Dr. Pamela Brown resigned in June.
Ogilvie’s appointment is not without controversy. The school board was split on whether or not the educator should be named interim superintendent, with the new majority heavily siding in favor of appointing Ogilvie while the new minority made claims that there has not been enough public vetting.
Board member Mary Ruth Kapsiak said appointing one candidate, without consideration of other candidates and with no prior meeting with the school board, is like “a dictatorship.” She said she isn’t questioning Ogilvie’s credentials, rather, “I am saying the process was not right.”
Sharon Belton-Cottman agreed, saying, “You don’t want to be transparent. You don’t want to involve all board members.”
The board member raised objections that the interim superintendent position was not posted on the district website.
HR Director Darren Brown told the board he would have posted it had he received direction, but the language for the ad hadn’t been approved and he was awaiting feedback from the board.
After some more back and forth arguments between minority and majority members of the school board, Ogilvie himself addressed the board.
He said, “What we do now is set up a future. Number one: everything should be tied to classroom instruction. We must invest the resources that we have to the highest priority.”
The former head of Erie 1 BOCES described himself as a quiet leader, but emphasized that that doesn’t mean he isn’t listening and observing.
“Sometimes I am bold as a leader, sometimes I am not. It depends on the circumstances,” Ogilvie said.
Dr. Barbara Seals-Nevergold and Mary Ruth Kapsiak both asked Ogilvie why he never reached out to board members. He responded by saying it is not usually the responsibility of a candidate to correct the process.
“You would have enjoyed, benefited from an opportunity to talk with me before now. No reason we can’t correct that going forward,” he agreed. “It was never my intention for anyone to be left out.”
For the second time Wednesday night, Sharon Belton-Cottman suggested that the split in the school board is along racial lines. Earlier in the night, she said the split was apparent to outsiders. She claimed the five white board members who comprise the majority want an interim superintendent “they can control.”
She asked Ogilvie if he is a “rubber stamp man, or your own man.”
He pointed out that he has been a superintendent for 33 years, and in that time he has never fallen to any number of ploys or attempts to gain favor.
“I would say, people would characterize me as tending toward controlling, as opposed to rubber stamping. And I don’t think either characterization is accurate,” Ogilvie told the board.
Belton-Cottman again suggested that former superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown, as well as the four African-American members that comprise the minority of the school board, have been unfairly targeted “because of the color of their skin.”
Ogilvie responded by promising he will listen and work with all stakeholders.
“You will not get proposals from me that have not been vetted. [Everyone’s] opinions need to be heard,” he said.
Board member Larry Quinn made a motion to approve Ogilvie as interim superintendent. The majority all voted in favor, while the minority, including Belton-Cottman, Harris-Tigg, Kapsiak, and Seals-Nevergold, all abstained “on the basis of being excluded.”
Ogilvie will be paid $217,500 each year, which is the same salary paid to Dr. Pamela Brown, and he will remain interim superintendent until a permanent replacement is found. After being sworn in, Ogilvie addressed the media.
He said he’s been interested in Buffalo ever since former superintendent Dr. James Williams left, but didn’t want to leave Erie 1 BOCES for another job. Since his retirement, he felt “the time, opportunity are right.”
Ogilvie says the central office of Buffalo Public Schools needs a “customer service” mentality when communicating with and addressing concerns from individual schools. He says he will be evaluating every position in the central office and says he expects “to put forth an alternate plan,” which could mean fewer positions.
And he didn’t dodge the issue of the racial tensions and infighting plaguing the Board of Education and, consequently, the school district.
“One of the first things that I need to do is to bring the temperature down,” Ogilvie said. “I understand, and I have empathy for anybody that feels like they haven’t been part of a process. That was not my responsibility. My responsibility is today, going forward. Healing, and giving people the assumption of dignity and respect is going to make a difference.”
“I think an error that many administrators and leaders make is to devote themselves so fully to ‘making the grade,’ if you will, and they forget that learning is is a process that relies on motivation, on a demonstration of caring,” Ogilvie said. “There are so many human aspects to leading a school district.”