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Should state abolish Buffalo’s Distinguished Educator position?

WBFO News file photo

The contract for the Distinguished Educator working for the Buffalo Public School District is set to expire at the end of this month. Judy Elliott was appointed to serve the city district by the State Education Department in 2012 by then former Education Commissioner John King. WBFO'S Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley says some are calling for an end to the position.

"Yes, I'm concerned about why we have this highly paid consultant in the first place.  If we're paying close to $200 for per hour for her salary I think we should have some tangible work," said Heather Leaderstorf. She is a Buffalo school parent and member of the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization trying to get answers from the State Education Department.    

"Let's terminate this Distinguished Educator experiment," declared State Assemblyman Sean Ryan in a WBFO News interview.

When former Commissioner King appointed Elliott the city district was forced to pay for her work. Elliott is paid $190-per hour, plus reimbursements for travel. 

Leaderstorf tells WBFO News she's not criticizing Elliott's expertise, however, as a taxpayer Leaderstorf is concerned about being forced to pay for Elliott's services without seeing results. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Heather Leaderstorf is a Buffalo school parent and member of the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization.

“We should be able to get answers from the State Education Department.  Teachers go through many hoops to prove that they are doing a good job -- what is Judy Elliott bringing to the table," stated Leaderstorf.

Elliott, a former Western New Yorker, currently lives in Florida traveling to Buffalo to conduct the work. She was handed the task of making recommendations for the city's 28-priority schools.

"I'm curious as to what the principals that she is working with -- how often does she go to those schools -- how often are they working together to get the best policy implemented for children. Money that’s paid toward consultants, is money that's not reaching classrooms," said Ledaerstorf.

"But right now -- would you believe -- in the entire New York State -- there is only one distinguished educator," said State Assemblyman Sean Ryan.  Ryan noted the Legislature gave the  education department the okay for a distinguished educator. But Ryan said there are no 'clear' outcomes.

"The other problem is the Distinguished Educator has no particular mission, so we don't know what she is supposed to be doing and she's not answerable to the superintendent or anyone else," said Ryan.

Elliott first arrived during while Pamela Brown was serving as superintendent.  But some had said Brown did not allow Elliott to conduct her work.  Ryan tells WBFO News he's in the process of drafting a letter asking the state education department not to renew Elliott's contract.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
State Assemblyman Sean Ryan.

"Let's terminate this Distinguished Educator experiment," declared Ryan in a WBFO News interview.

Ryan accuses the State Ed Department for a lack of transparency. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia during a recent visit in Amherst, N.Y.

Newly named Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was cautious in responding to our question about Elliott’s future contract during a recent visit to Amherst.

"Her roll was very defined and so we're looking at exactly what the needs are of Buffalo and whether we should move forward in a duplication, and a continuation or whether there should be some other things done to support Buffalo," responded Elia.

Buffalo School Board majority member Carl Paladino wants Elliott to stay. Paladino wrote a letter earlier this week to Elia asking to reappoint her.  Paladino also discounted a letter from the board's minority members saying to end Elliott's work. Paladino accused those members of wanting the ‘status quo'.  But minority school board member Barbara Seals Nevergold said she has not received any results on Elliott's work.

Majority School Board member Carl Paladino's recent letter to NYSED asking to reappointment Elliott.

"And the disappointing part about Dr. Elliott's tenure is there's been no accountability there on the part of the state with respect to her production or her delivery of the kinds of support she was expected to deliver," said Seals Nevergold. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Minority School Board Member Barbara Seals Nevergold.

Seals Nevergold noted that Elliott's original contract was for two years, but extended by King for another year before he left the state.

"So here we have three years of this consultant and we have no evaluation to show that there was any improvement or outcomes and that's unacceptable," said Seals Nevergold.

Western New York’s Regents Catherine Fisher Collins says she's unable to comment on the Distinguished Editors work.

"I know that she's been in the district, but I understand that she has more than one school she is working too. I haven't seen anything that she has accomplished," said Collins.

WBFO News has reached out to Judy Elliott. She has declined recorded interviews saying she would prefer right now to stay out of the quote 'fray of fire" and 'politics' surrounding the position.

Elliott noted she has conducted 1,600 hours of on-site work over three years and 606-hours off site. Elliott said it the 'call of the new commissioner in going forward'. For now, Elliott awaits a decision on her contract.  

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