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Q&A: CATHERINE COLLINS ON EDUCATION

Catherine Collins, an associate professor of community and human services at Empire State College, is a member at large of the Buffalo Board of Education. An outspoken opponent of charter schools, she recently voted, along with four other board members, for a one-year moratorium on charter schools sponsored by the Buffalo School District.

Q: Can you elaborate on your position about district charters?

A: I was elected to represent the interest of public school children. The lack of adequate funding for traditional public schools and charter schools would have an impact on the academic achievement of children in our district -- both public and charter. We must eliminate the negative trend of pitting Buffalo's traditional public schools against charter schools because we lack the appropriate funds to do justice to both approaches. Instead of pointing fingers, let's fix the problem, following the model of a separate funding stream, like Indiana did in 2003. My position on this has always been clear. Let's take care of all the children. The ball is in the hands of the Legislature to fix this problem. After all, it gave us charter schools, but less money to fund them.

Q: You and West District member Ralph Hernandez supported the one-year hiatus. What do you hope to accomplish in that year?

A: As you know, we voted 5-4 to impose a one-year moratorium on district-sponsored charters. Essentially, there's a lot of information floating out there about charter schools, ranging from a U.S. Department of Education report saying charters are failing to help students, to a Progressive Policy Institute study calling them the "seeds of change" for education. Rushing to make judgments on an issue as important as the future of our children is never a good idea. We're going to take the time to study the issue.

Q: The initial three-year moratorium was defeated after one member, Janique Curry, abstained. What is your opinion on how the School Board handled that vote?

A: I think enough has been said and printed about that vote. However, a workshop on parliamentary procedure, specifically the Roberts Rules of Order, would certainly help some members of the board.

Q: You initially objected to the level of input that M&T Bank President Robert Wilmers would have in funding a search and subsidizing the salary of a new superintendent. Yet you were part of an 8-0 vote in favor of accepting Wilmers' help. How do you reconcile that?

A: From day one, I asked to see a written document outlining Wilmers' offer. Essentially, we knew what we'd be getting; my concern was what he wanted in return. Once I received a copy of his offer, which specified that no strings were attached and that a separate escrow account for the funds would be set up, should we have need of them, I was satisfied.

Q: When first elected, you said ". . . With the new blood comes new ideas, new energies and new directions. . . ." What new ideas has this new board developed?

A: We inherited many of the previous board's decisions about the future of the district, some of which we agree with, and others with which we don't. Still, we've discussed some common goals. One is the replication of the best schools the district has to offer. There should not be a waiting list for City Honors School or Middle College High School. We have some wonderful programs and teaching staff. Let's build on the strengths of our best schools. If we build on our strengths, we'll become stronger.