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Williams Evaluation a Conflict of Interest?

dyouville She may have lost her seat on the school board in the May 5 election, but that is not stopping outgoing board member Catherine Collins from fulfilling her duty as Chairperson of the Executive Affairs Committee.

Tomorrow, May 20, the committee will meet in room 801 in city hall, at 4pm. Among the topics addressed will be the evaluation of Superintendent James Williams. These evaluations can lead to contract extensions and raises for the superintendent. (Click here for a copy of the Williams’s contract signed by board member Florence Johnson on May 23, 2007.)

Yesterday was the deadline for school board members to submit their evaluations of Williams to Sister Denise Roche, President of D’Youville College.

Roche is scheduled to give a summary presentation to the Executive Affairs Committee tomorrow at 6pm.

On Friday, May 15, I called Sister Roche to ask about her involvement with the superintendent’s evaluation—something she has participated in before. I left a message to that effect with her secretary. I called again yesterday, and was told she was out of town.

I left a message saying I was seeking comment from her about whether she felt it was appropriate for a nun, the president of a college, to be involved in the evaluation of the superintendent of a school system that pays that college somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million per year to house one of its schools, in this case, the DaVinci Academy. According to school district documents, the current annual cost to the district is $1.1 million, or $790,000, excluding capital improvements. The lease with D’Youville expires in August 2013, and was signed by Roche.

Repeated attempts to contact Roche have been unsuccessful. Today I left a message indicating that I was trying to get Roche’s response to a letter delivered to her yesterday by school board member Catherine Nugent Panepinto—a formal request that Roche recuse herself from further involvement in the superintendent’s evaluation.

“I greatly appreciate your willingness to coordinate the evaluation and greatly respect your commitment to education in Buffalo. However, your status as a signatory to a contract with the Board of Education raises a conflict of interest with your role as evaluation coordinator,” Nugent Panepinto writes, “Interests such as your interest in the contract between D’Youville College and the Board of Education are generally addressed in New York State General Municipal Law § 800, wherein conflicts of interest are defined.”

Nugent Panepinto took heat from some board members at last night’s meeting, for sending the letter to Roche.

It seems clear that Roche will not respond to the  inquiries of a  journalist, but maybe she will respond to the request of a school board member.

Then again, maybe she won’t.