Wednesday night’s Buffalo School Board meeting was shocking in one respect – so much got accomplished. Matters that have bitterly divided the board for months were resolved in the span of a few hours.
And unlike the acrimonious fighting that pitted members of the majority against those in the minority, interim Superintendent Will Keresztes exercised a persuasive blend of diplomacy and reason that led to change instead of criticism.
Consider that in one meeting, the board:
• Rescinded heavily criticized plans to displace 570 students from Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute, allowing them to instead remain at the school for another year while the district comes up with a different way to turn MLK into a school in good standing.
• Abandoned plans to convert MLK into a new Buffalo Medical Campus High School in favor of placing a new “Medical Careers Program” at the Math, Science and Technology Preparatory School, starting this fall.
Keresztes said the goal would be to have the Medical Campus High School become a stand-alone school in two years.
• Rescinded plans that would force Middle Early College to share space with Math, Science and Technology Preparatory School. Instead, at Keresztes’ recommendation, the board gave the school community what it wanted, its own space in a vacant building that was formerly School 187 at 333 Clinton St.
• Tabled a controversial parent-involvement policy that would have eliminated the official role of the District Parent Coordinating Council. Keresztes said he would bring all parent groups together next week to find a compromise that all sides could accept.
Many of the resolutions adopted by the board Wednesday completely unraveled plans heavily promoted by former Superintendent Pamela C. Brown. The decisions made by the board were also greeted by cheers from the audience, which packed the boardroom.
That’s not to say that the resolutions were all approved unanimously, or without serious debate.
Board members had many concerns, for instance, about what would happen if the MLK students were left in a low-achieving school for another year without proper academic support. They criticized the state for putting them in a terrible position.
And some questioned whether there were secret plans to convert MLK into a charter school.
But Keresztes warned the group that if they chose to close a low-performing school when the state has given them permission to keep it open, they would be sending a dangerous signal to the state.
“I worry that we are establishing a precedent that will be very hard to recover from,” he said.
The board ultimately voted, 8-1, in favor of keeping MLK open for another year.
Board members also had a multitude of questions about temporarily abandoning plans to create a Medical Campus High School this September.
Keresztes, who had clearly laid some groundwork prior to Wednesday’s meeting, argued that there simply wasn’t time to put such a school together in such short order.
Instead, he said, the district could successfully launch a “Medical Careers Program” at the Math, Science and Technology Preparatory School,or MST, which is located close to Erie County Medical Center.
MST would be able to launch two medical-themed certification programs this fall, he said. In two years, he said, the district should be able to open a stand-alone school located closer to the Medical Campus. That resolution passed unanimously.
MST was originally where the high school students who currently attend Middle Early College were supposed to be relocated.
Both schools were to share the school building in September, despite huge outcries from parents and students in both buildings. Keresztes recommended that those students move into a vacant school building until the college-focused school can eventually be relocated onto the campus of Erie Community College.
“The reality is, MST cannot accommodate Middle Early College,” Keresztes said with finality.
All board members voted for the proposal except for Carl P. Paladino, who abstained from the vote because Middle Early College has leased space from his development company.
Finally, the board said goodbye to board members John B. Licata and Florence D. Johnson. Both were showered with praise and applause for their dedication to the district.