More than 2,200 Buffalo Schools students want to be transferred out of their current schools, requests that must be honored because their schools are in bad standing with the state.
The 2,219 applications represent four to five times the number who have sought transfers from their underperforming schools in each of the last five years. The students seeking transfers this year could easily fill several school buildings.
“I want to say that this has been a really important event in Buffalo,” said William Keresztes, the district’s chief of student support services who now also oversees student placement. “This process has demonstrated that Buffalo’s parents are second to none when it comes to advocacy for their children.”
The state Education Department ruled in late May that, under federal law, students attending underperforming Buffalo schools have the right to be transferred to a school in good standing – regardless of whether those schools have the room to accommodate them.
The district now has a week to come up with an acceptable plan to find room for these 2,219 students. The deadline to submit the plan to the state is Friday.
One thing is clear – there’s no way the district will be able to physically accommodate moving all these students from its 45 underperforming schools into the 12 schools that are in good standing. In addition, all of the high schools in good standing currently have admissions criteria that students must meet.
“The expectation is that the plan takes significant steps to increase capacity,” Keresztes said.
Based on the state’s original ruling in May, the district submitted a seven-page document describing how it would enable transfers to one of the district’s 12 schools in good standing.
While the district provided roughly half a dozen options that it would be “exploring” to accommodate all transfer requests, the state rejected the plan because they “lack sufficient detail in terms of goals, progress targets, activities, timelines, documentation and measurement strategies.”
The original plan the district submitted outlined a number of possible options for this coming school year, including:
• Setting aside a percentage of seats at schools in good standing for students who apply for “public school choice” transfers.
• Expanding seat capacity in higher-performing schools at their current sites, where possible.
• Establishing “satellites” for schools in good standing.
• Housing more than one school in the same building, under the leadership of a principal of a school in good standing.
• Closing an existing school and reopening it as an extension of a school in good standing.
Longer-term issues the district said it would examine include the reconsideration of the district’s current admission standards for schools, such as Olmsted 64, Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, City Honors and others.
“I think we’re looking at all those options,” Keresztes said. “What we did this time was to create more specificity, and we created a more specific timeline.”
Unlike the last go-round, Keresztes said the district is now working closely with the state to draw up and revise its school choice plan so that by the time a final version is submitted on Friday, the district can be confident that it will be accepted by the state.
“Their assistance is very important,” he said.
The district’s parent advocacy group, the District Parent Coordinating Council, forced this issue on the district by seeking a ruling from the state several months ago on whether the district could deny students their transfer requests based on a lack of capacity. In 2012-13, the district denied transfers to 95 students because of lack of space.
The state originally said the district was not required to make seats available but later issued a formal ruling in response to the parent council that reversed its position.
Samuel Radford, president of the parent council, said many parents were encouraged to seek transfers for their children this summer because the state made it clear that no parent could be turned away because of lack of space.
He was, however, critical of the district’s letter to parents that informed them of their transfer rights.
“The letter didn’t clearly help a parent make an educated decision,” he said.
The parent group will be sending a letter to the state saying the district’s letter to parents was insufficient because it lacked information regarding exactly how students would be accommodated. The letter also will express concern that the district may be unable to transfer all 2,219 students by the first day of school, Radford said.
He said he hopes the district will be required to re-extend its application deadline to allow more families to apply for transfers once the district’s school choice plan is finalized.
Keresztes said the district would be unwilling to extend the deadline because the state requires students to be ranked for seat placement based on their academic need and that ranking process has already begun.
A deadline extension “is not something that I would support because it would really be unfair to the students who met the deadline,” he said.
Keresztes also said he views the district’s current work in a positive light.
“Any time parents advocate for their children, public education thrives,” he said. “I see this as a powerful message that’s been delivered, and I think public education in Buffalo will be better because of it.”
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