Buffalo school leaders are finalizing the details of an agreement that could provide city students seeking transfers from low-performing schools with scholarships to attend private ones.
Will Keresztes, the district’s chief of student support services, updated the School Board on the progress in his conversations with the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo during its meeting Wednesday.
Keresztes has been in conversations with the diocese since August, and those discussions became widely publicized last month as the diocese prepared to announce its latest round of school closures.
The plan was for an outside donor to come up with the money to provide scholarships through the Bison Fund to city students seeking transfers to attend Catholic or other private schools. Along with creating an opportunity for city students, diocesan leaders said the transfers would keep some Catholic schools from closing.
Keresztes said he has drafted a letter that would be sent to parents to let them know of the opportunity and is waiting for feedback from the diocese.
“We’ve provided them, really, with all the information they need to get organized, and they continue to get organized,” he said.
Some board members, however, were cautious about the details of the potential agreement.
The diocese is looking to target certain grade levels, as opposed to all students. Those students must also meet any entrance criteria of the schools they want to attend. Scholarships may be on a sliding scale, as opposed to full tuition.
And students could lose their eligibility for the Say Yes Buffalo scholarship program if they leave the district.
“I want to make sure that commitment is to that child, and not to just help people make up their budget for a year,” said board member Florence Johnson.
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown emphasized the need for the district to be clear with families about the criteria.
“We certainly want to partner with the schools to create opportunities for students, but we also want to be clear what those opportunities are,” she said.
Board members also took offense at allegations that Brown held up discussions about the plan. On several occasions, diocesan leaders told the media that Brown had not returned their phone calls, although they have been in talks with Keresztes since August.
“Somehow the district took the blame for the delay,” Johnson said.
The looming agreement with the diocese has been one of many efforts to find space for the more than 2,000 students who sought transfers from low-performing schools.
About 1,200 of those students did not receive a transfer offer this year.
Their parents will receive letters this weekend notifying them that they can stay on the list for next year without having to reapply.
The district’s next school choice period will be from March 17 to April 30.