Parents attending a Buffalo Public Schools forum on school mergers and building closings Tuesday offered a uniform response to the proposals: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Stephanie Rogers, whose son, Malik Albert, is a freshman at Middle Early College High School, objected to plans to move the school from its downtown Main Street location to School 8 at East Utica Street and Masten Avenue. Such a move would disrupt the stellar programs offered at the school, she said.
“The program is phenomenal. The kids love it. The staff is wonderful, and they get all the support they need. How can you do that to our children?” Rogers said.
Mary Grace Duggan, an English teacher at Middle Early, also questioned the reasoning behind the proposal, which would move students away from Erie Community College, where the high schoolers attend classes in the afternoon.
“Pulling them away physically from the college will ruin our program. They have to be with other college students. They have to see college students as models. They have to experience what college is all about,” Duggan said.
However, school administrators who presided over the Building Consolidation and Usage Public Forum that was held in Academy School 44 said the main aim is to save the district money and avoid massive layoffs as the district faces a $51 million deficit for the 2013-14 school year.
“In order for the district to protect its No. 1 priority, which is the classroom and the programs that affect children, one of the ways that we look to close those budget deficits is to look at physical bricks and mortar … and the money that we can save in those aspects,” said Barbara J. Smith, the district’s chief financial officer.
Since the district has excess capacity, Smith added, the state Education Department has deemed it ineligible for aid on capital improvements or for building new schools. To cut costs, school officials have proposed relocating Middle Early and the School 86 adult education programs to School 8 at 167 E. Utica St., which some parents described as a high-crime area. Adult education staff at School 86 also objected to the proposed move, noting that the school’s current North Buffalo location is preferable to its roughly 140 adult students.
However, district officials said that in addition to offering increased amenities, a merger would save $4.5 million which, according to Smith, is equivalent to 90 staff positions. Other proposed consolidations are relocation of Academy Schools 40 and 44 to School 4 at 425 South Park Ave., which would accommodate grades 7 through 12, a prospect that unnerved some parents and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore. He said a committee of teachers and administrators from both schools held many meetings to weigh the pros and cons. “We met for months, and we unanimously agreed that the two schools should remain separate and at these sites,” he said.
Several parents and others also spoke in opposition to district plans to expand Discovery School 67 to School 70, the former Indian Park Academy, at 76 Buffum St. Among them was developer and School Board candidate Carl P. Paladino, who blamed board policies for destroying viable neighborhood schools such as Discovery.
“It appears to me that despite an attitude generally across the city that there is a desire to return to neighborhood schools, the central administration of this school district continues to try to keep the same failing approach to busing kids all over the place that has failed us for the last 20 years,” Paladino said.
“You should not take any action until the election coming up.”