The new year is going to start out poorly for a lot of Buffalo students. Because of a financial shortfall, the school district and its partner, Say Yes to Education, will not be able to offer the after-school programs they had been planning, and which the federal government requires.
Say Yes originally planned to offer after-school programs two hours a day every school day in 28 schools. The program would have cost the district $14 million, which the organization’s director, David Rust, said he believed the district would produce.
But the plan has apparently collapsed. Instead of serving the expected 9,300 students, the scaled-back plan being assembled would serve at most 5,500 students. In some buildings, the makeshift plan might run only four days a week. It’s a significant loss. The after-school programs are supposed to provide desperately needed academic support in a district with too many failing schools.
And it gets worse. The Buffalo School District, which is managed the way a drunkard manages a car, refused to allow Rust to speak before the School Board about the matter. “We’re clearly a significant partner in this district, and they wouldn’t let their partner come back up and talk about the program they had just signed onto,” he said.
The problem comes after the state last year started allowing failing school districts to use federal money to develop their own after-school programs, in place of a tutoring system that was largely unregulated. But now, with plans for an extensive program on the verge of falling apart, the leader of a parent group is threatening to ask the state to revoke the flexibility that Buffalo has been granted to develop its own after-school programs.
“Essentially, the district put together a skeleton program,” said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “It’s nothing like what they promised us.”
Rust is putting a good face on the matter, despite being treated shabbily by the School Board. “We’re going to get through this,” he said.
For the sake of Buffalo’s put-upon students, you can only hope he’s right. They also have to hope that all of Say Yes has Rust’s never-say-die attitude toward dealing with a dysfunctional school district that too often acts as though it doesn’t need the help.
It does. Buffalo’s students, families and taxpayers can only benefit from the efforts of Say Yes, which promises a college education to students who graduate. But Say Yes needs in the school district a partner that is competent, willing and reliable. Buffalo may be willing to accept the help from Say Yes, at least intermittently, but it shows few signs of competence and reliability.
It’s not just Say Yes that runs into the district’s brick wall of ineptitude. A recent DPCC complaint prompted the State Education Department to withhold $36 million in federal grants over the district’s failure to consult with the parents organization.
Parents will always be here. Say Yes is in Buffalo only because it wants to be. The district ought to give it a corresponding measure of respect.