We should have seen it coming. Two high-profile projects that had the potential to make a difference in Buffalo schools were rejected or delayed by the State Education Department, which complained of inadequate, poorly planned programs that lacked detail. It’s the same old song for a district that is profoundly and relentlessly unable to produce.
And the kids pay the price.
Because the district can’t get out of its own way, 135 incoming ninth-graders don’t have a high school to attend this fall. That’s because the Education Department flatly rejected the Buffalo Public Schools’ plan to relaunch Bennett High School this fall as a new school focusing on science and technology.
And it gets worse.
The state is also withholding approval of the district’s plans to convert Martin Luther King School 39 into the Medical Campus High School. That’s the same project that the White House recently awarded $3.9 million in grant money. Given the district’s chronic failure to produce any plan acceptable to the state on the first try, it’s impossible not to suspect that the MLK plan also would have been rejected outright but for that $3.9 million sugar coating.
The projects represent Buffalo’s best hopes of producing change to benefit its beleaguered students. But success hinged upon the district’s ability to present a coherent, detailed plan of action. It didn’t.
How can people who never learn hope to run an organization whose mission is to teach?
The state was unsparing in its criticism. “Department staff determined that the plan submitted by BPS does not provide the necessary evidence of comprehensive planning and support for the phase-out and phase-in of schools,” Deputy Commissioner Ken Slentz wrote in a letter to the district.
As a consequence, the relaunching of Bennett High School has been pushed back to September 2015, if it survives at all. The Education Department directed the district to assign or hire someone by May 30 with the “sole responsibilities” of producing a school phase-in plan for Bennett that the state can approve.
It’s hard to be optimistic.
Regarding MLK, the state demanded a long list of additional information by the end of next week. Failure to produce the required information would result in “denial of the phase-out/phase-in plans for MLK and the petition for registration of a new school for Buffalo Medical Campus High School,” Slentz wrote.
It’s an alarming problem, though you wouldn’t know it from the reaction of Buffalo’s what-me-worry? superintendent. In what has become Pamela Brown’s classic response to disaster, she painted lipstick on the pig: “Certainly,” she said, “we appreciate having more time.”
More time for what? To mess it up again?
Several candidates for next month’s School Board elections have noted, and not implausibly, that the problems in the school district go much deeper than the person who leads it. That’s true, but it takes leadership to fix a broken organization, and Brown isn’t up to delivering it.
Just ask the parents of 135 children with no school to attend this fall.