The Buffalo School Board next week will review a new plan that parents and the community helped develop to improve academic outcomes for students. If approved by the state Education Department, that could begin the process of releasing $36 million in federal aid that the department has withheld from the district since December.
The money – which might be used to secure more services for students learning English; provide professional development for teachers; hire more teachers; or buy more supplies – was tied up because of the district’s failure to adequately involve parents in creating its school improvement plans and in the application process for the federal grant.
While district leaders are not required to win the approval of a parent group when submitting the applications and plans, they must prove that feedback was solicited from the District Parent Coordinating Council.
This time around, the district did involve more parents and the council, said DPCC President Samuel A. Radford III, a frequent critic of the district’s failure to properly include parents in the drafting of various proposals and plans.
“The local school district did a 180-degree flip from last year,” Radford said. “Last year, they didn’t include us at all. This year, they included us in the process. That’s just the beginning,” he said.
“This should lead to the $36 million being released,” he said.
This is a good first step the district has taken, said Jonathan Burman, spokesman for state Education Department.
“If the (District Comprehensive Improvement Plan) that is approved by the board provides evidence that stakeholders were given a meaningful opportunity to consult in the development of the plan, SED would consider that a very positive step in terms of release of the funds currently being held,” Burman said.
The board will vote during Wednesday’s business meeting on whether to approve the plan. If it passes, the document then will be forwarded to Albany.
When school board members consider giving the plan approval, they will look for assurances from all parties that a meaningful engagement process was implemented by the school district, said Will Keresztes, the Buffalo district’s chief of student support.
“Teachers and students benefit when parents are meaningfully integrated into broad-based decision-making. Our responsibility as a school district is to bring stakeholders to the decision-making table and establish common ground,” Keresztes wrote in a statement.
That’s encouraging to hear, but more needs to be done in terms of enforcement at the state level, Radford said.
“We need assurances for the future. We want to know what are the consequences to prevent the district from doing this in the future,” Radford said. “The state needs to come up with a plan on how they are going to this year make sure” district leaders “have parents involved in the process in the planning and implementation of the [plan].”
Last summer, the DPCC alleged that involvement did not happen, and filed a complaint with the state Education Department, which directed then-Superintendent Pamela E. Brown to provide proof of the parent council’s involvement.
The district submitted hundreds of pages of documents last October to make its case. But the state ruled last December the district did not meet the requirements, and placed a hold on the disbursement of the federal Title 1 antipoverty money and other federal grant funding.
Fast-forward to June, when Keresztes took over as interim superintendent to replace Brown following her resignation. Keresztes reworked and updated the district plan that Brown originally submitted.
He scheduled a series of meetings with the parent council to get its input and involvement. Education advisors from AIR helped the group reconstruct the plan, Radford said.
School district leaders “brought in outside consultation to redo the process to include parents. We’ve been in three meetings already. We took Pam’s 75 goals and pared them down to 10 goals we can work together on,” he said.
If the district plan is approved, individual school improvement plans will be configured to align with it next month, Radford said.