Maybe the Buffalo School Board is learning something. At its meeting Wednesday night it backed away from an unexpected and frustrating plan to hang students out to dry. Again.
Parents and students of the former Pinnacle Charter School had been promised that students would be kept together next school year in one of two new facilities that would open this fall as schools in good standing. But last week, Superintendent Pamela C. Brown reneged on that pledge and announced that, instead, students from the substandard charter school that was closed by the state would be sent to Harvey Austin School 97, another of the district’s regularly low-performing schools.
And to add insult, the district on Monday sent a letter home to parents telling them that if they wanted more information, they could attend a meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday. If that wasn’t a strategic way to keep attendance down, then the district nevertheless managed to bungle its way to that result.
It was shamefully disrespectful of parents who were promised something, then had the rug pulled out. Surely district leaders can do better than that.
And they’ll have to. At Wednesday’s marathon meeting of the School Board, members rejected that plan on the sensible grounds that parents were given inadequate notice. But plans for those students remain up in the air, so the issue is far from settled.
This is hardly the first time that the school district has changed the rules on parents or left them with only poor choices, though the district had never been more disingenuous than it was with this charade. In defending her decision to send students to Harvey Austin, Brown claimed that the “goals” of opening two new schools while closing and reopening two existing schools were not “firm commitments” – even though the district submitted 32 pages of detailed timelines showing how those plans would be accomplished.
“There was always a recognition that all of those particular goals or strategies may not necessarily be implemented,” Brown claimed. Really? Always a recognition by whom? By Brown, perhaps, but certainly not by parents who are angry and frustrated at a decision that came to them as an unwelcome surprise.
The school district has a recent history of failing to fulfill promises and comply with state requirements. Hardly a week goes by without it coming up short on some notable item. This, and revelations about the lack of certification for two top officials, are only the latest in a series of lapses that have characterized the district’s performance under Brown’s leadership.
Any large organization can run into speed bumps in its performance, and especially one as large and labyrinthine as the Buffalo School District. However, it’s fair to expect improvement and forthrightness.
Brown has claimed improvement in graduation rates and, if her numbers hold up upon state review, that will say something positive. But the district’s chronic inability to deal honestly with parents and to do the things it needs to do are, at this point, beyond intolerable. Something needs to change.