Would somebody please introduce Pamela C. Brown to her telephone?
The Buffalo school superintendent, whose district is in deep trouble over its inability to accommodate the 2,100 students who are demanding transfers out of underperforming schools, says she is waiting for another call from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo about its offer to take some of those students.
Once again: Buffalo schools are in trouble. Brown knows that Catholic schools are offering to help, yet she is patiently waiting for someone to call her with a rescue plan.
When Sweet Nell is tied to the railroad tracks in the movies, she waits for a rescuer to appear. But when the Buffalo school superintendent is in trouble with the state – serious trouble – she reaches for the phone and calls the people she knows are interested in helping out.
This is crazy. Is it any wonder leaders from the business community are looking for a way to help the superintendent out the door?
Carol Kostyniak, secretary for education with the diocese, says she has heard nothing from the district since the Catholic schools offered to use private scholarship money to help pay tuition for city students who want transfers. Under the circumstances, it’s an idea worth exploring.
The Catholic schools are facing their own financial difficulties and are planning to close several schools. An influx of city school students could forestall some closings, while also helping the Buffalo School District out of a jam.
It’s not often that needs mesh so nicely, and it says something good about the Catholic system that its leaders not only recognized the synergistic possibilities, but acted on them. It says something about the city school district that it hasn’t responded.
Admittedly, this is not a perfect fit. Solving a public school problem by sending students to a religious private school raises real issues of separation of church and state. That’s why the plan is to have a third party, the Bison Children’s Scholarship Fund, play the funding role. It’s a circumvention of the rules and while that might not typically be a welcome strategy, in this case it is, because the alternative is far more troubling.
Thousands of Buffalo students are having their educations stolen from them. At some point, years down the road, maybe the city school district will be doing a better job of preparing students for college or career, but it’s not happening today, and today, children’s lives are being trashed.
The decision has to be about Buffalo’s children, not strict adherence to church-state standards and not serving the regal pretensions of a superintendent out of her depth.
This isn’t the first time Brown has resisted outside help. Last year, Regent Robert Bennett recommended that she meet with Claire Sylvan, a nationally recognized expert in the education of immigrants and English language learners. Brown didn’t pick up the phone, later explaining that she’s an expert in those matters, herself. And the students suffer.
Telephones. They’re useful tools.