Despite some yelling, confusion and four hours of questions and disagreement, the Buffalo Board of Education approved the district’s plan to transfer children out of underperforming schools, as well as the turnaround plans for East and Lafayette high schools.
The school choice plan, approved in a 6-3 vote, provides for the transfer of between 300 and 500 students – out of nearly 2,200 requests – from underperforming schools into other Buffalo schools in good standing with the state. It also requires the district to begin immediately reaching out to suburban school superintendents to see if they will accept Buffalo students from the 42 schools the state has labeled as failing.
In all cases, it’s unclear whether any of these plans will be accepted by the state Education Department. What is clear is that the state has been providing unprecedented levels of feedback to the district regarding the transfer and turnaround plans, mandated by Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.
This includes a lengthy, nine-paragraph letter from the state’s deputy education commissioner to Superintendent Pamela Brown on Saturday detailing six weaknesses in the district’s earlier transfer proposal that gave the plan “no possibility” of approval without changes.
The state, for instance, asked the district to adopt a more aggressive timetable for accomplishing its goals instead of waiting until the second and third year of the plan to make certain changes. The state also asked for more detail about how the district will accomplish its goals for opening and reopening new schools.
The district responded with further revisions over the weekend, but it’s clear that the bar set by the state for approval remains high and that the state education commissioner is frustrated that Buffalo school officials need so much help to pull together acceptable plans for the state to consider.
“We have provided substantial technical assistance over the last few years, intensively over the last few weeks just to help them get this done, as has the [Board of Cooperative Educational Services],” said King in his conference call with The Buffalo News editorial board last week. “But at the end of the day, these are their responsibilities.
“We are taking the extraordinary step of providing extraordinary technical assistance, but the work that we are doing with them is work that, in all other cases, was done by districts themselves. So, again, it comes down to the capacity challenges in Buffalo.”
As a result of numerous, last-minute changes to the student transfer and East and Lafayette turnaround plans, most board members did not get copies of any plans until late Saturday evening and even those weren’t final versions.
The media did not get copies of the East and Lafayette school turnaround plans at all.
Numerous administrators attested to working through the weekend to develop final plans for the board to consider at its noon meeting Monday. Will Keresztes, chief of student support services who oversaw revisions to the student transfer plan, presented a highlighted copy to the board outlining more changes the district made in response to latest set of criticisms by state Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Slentz.
Some highlights from the revised transfer plan include having the district:
• Open two new schools in good standing with the state. One would open in September 2014, and the second would open in September 2015. These schools could be governed by outside organizations or charter schools.
• Close, then “reinvent” and reopen two existing, low-performing schools with low enrollment. As above, one would open in 2014 and one would open in 2015 with similar governing options possible.
• Begin immediate work to collaborate with other area school districts, presumably neighboring suburban districts, to establish seats for Buffalo students seeking transfers. Keresztes said it may also be possible for the district to take advantage of scholarships and partner with some Catholic schools, including Notre Dame Academy in South Buffalo.
School Board Member Florence Johnson banged her hand on the table and referenced a suburban parent’s comment to the media that he didn’t want his child attending school with Buffalo children.
“I am outraged!” she said. “We are sending kids, in some instances, to what will be hostile environments.”
Several parents, also outraged but for different reasons, shouted down the board and required board President Barbara Nevergold to declare a five-minute recess.
They were angry at being denied a public comment period and angry that the transfer plan requires most of the 2,200 parents who requested transfers for their children to wait one or two more years to have their requests honored.
“I blame everybody up there that’s sitting in the ivory tower not realizing the impact that this is having on the children,” said parent and former board candidate Bryon McIntyre.
District Parent Coordinating Council President Samuel Radford III, who was given advance permission to address the board, said the district and the board were warned a year ago that they could expect to see a large influx of transfer requests but did nothing about it.
Now, he said, the district is considering a last-minute transfer plan for state consideration that included no input from parents and accommodates far fewer students than originally envisioned.
“Why do we, the parents and the students, have to get consequences when we understood what the law was,” he said. “We didn’t ask for anything extra. We asked for people to do their jobs. We asked the board to provide oversight for the following of the law. Now we’re here a year later, and this is the oversight you’ve provided us.”
The board voted 6-3 in favor of the school transfer plan, with board members Theresa Harris-Tigg, Carl Paladino and James Sampson voting against.
The board also approved turnaround plans for East and Lafayette high schools. The plans would have Johns Hopkins University serve as the lead educational organization for these schools with superintendent authority and allow interested students to take vocational courses through Erie 1 BOCES.
There was considerable debate and discussion about the fact that the turnaround plan for Lafayette includes special staffing to serve the school’s high percentage of non-native English speakers, but does not include any budgeted money to pay for that support.
The plan for Lafayette was approved 6-3, with Harris-Tigg, Paladino and Sampson again voting no.
The East High plan was approved 8-1, with Sampson voting no.
Go to the SchoolZone blog here.