New Buffalo School Board Planning Major Reforms for Troubled District

In June, the Common Council of Buffalo was asked to consider suing the city’s school board and the New York State Department of Education over what was called by one group a “criminal lack of performance”.   

Time Warner Cable News of Buffalo notes that the Community Action Organization believes that the number of failing schools in the city is a “breach of state and federal law”

Members of a newly-elected school board have plans to change that. Its intention, says Tiffany Lankes, writing for the Buffalo News, is to “dramatically overhaul Buffalo’s city schools” by way of some very gutsy changes.

Ultimately, the board wants to increase the number of openings for students in the district’s  high-performing schools by about 4,300 in the next two years.  If successful, this would have an impact on 13% of the district’s students.

This can only be done with the assistance of parents, teachers, charter school operators, and state legislators, the board members pointed out.  Their five-point strategy includes:

1) Increasing the number of  openings in the top-performing schools in the district.

2) Convincing suburban school officials to allow city students to transfer to their schools.

3) Asking the state to designate part of the Buffalo district as a “recovery district” and allowing the lowest performing schools to be under the State Education Department’s control.

4) Creating Opportunity Scholarships to be used by students in order for them to attend private schools.

5) Assessing the district’s career programs to create and expand those that align with future needs of the state’s workforce.

This sort of multi-pronged approach is a departure from the “charter school is the only answer” approach, and is imperative if the struggling school systems of  Albany are to be fixed.

“The fact that the state’s second-largest school district is pushing that kind of bold reform is impressive,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of Students First New York, which supports school choice and the expansion of charter schools. “This is exciting for Buffalo and exciting for New York and other large districts across the country who will be watching.”

Charter school critics and the teachers union are questioning if this will lead to the neglect of the city’s public school system.  Charter school critics say that the schools drain necessary funding from traditional public schools.

State funding is tied to students, so each child who moves to a charter causes the district to lose money.  Those in favor of charter schools say that they offer assistance to those students who are just not making it in the traditional school setting.

Putting this kind of imperative on existing charter schools will be a challenge.  Just 12 schools out of 57 are deemed to be in good standing.  More charter schools will have to be created, which could make these reforms at least a two-year process, during which the board will continue dodging accusations of conflicts of interest, political motivations, union busting, intentions of closing schools, teacher firings, and more.

Even before the board had its first business meeting there were flare-ups, racial tension, accusations of breach of confidentiality, leaking of information, and unethical behavior.  Deidre Williams,  reporter for The Buffalo News, notes that the board will have its first regular business meeting on Wednesday.