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State denies bid from Buffalo for funds to aid failing schools
Tells School Board to revamp plans

The state Education Department has rejected the Buffalo Public Schools' application for up to $18 million in federal turnaround funds for three failing schools.

The district was eligible for up to $2 million a year, for three years, for each of the schools: Lafayette High School, Bilingual Center School 33 and Dr. Charles Drew Science Magnet. The Board of Education had decided to hire outside groups to run each school.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said he was disappointed in Buffalo's failure to submit adequate plans for the schools. He was especially critical of the situation at Lafayette, which also applied unsuccessfully a year ago for turnaround funds and was granted $300,000 to use for planning in 2010-11.

"The fact that there is no plan for Lafayette High School that we could approve is an indictment of all the adults involved, from the [Board of Education] on down," he said in a phone interview. "After having even had the benefit of a planning year, the inability to articulate a clear, approvable plan consistent with the law is embarrassing, frankly."

He is giving Buffalo until Jan. 1 to submit adequate plans for those three schools, as well as East High School, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Waterfront Elementary and Futures Academy -- failing schools for which the district did not submit any turnaround plans.

Superintendent James A. Williams said he would like to see the district consider converting the seven failing schools to charter schools or revert to an earlier plan that involved moving the principals and half the teachers out of those schools.

"There's strong support in the community, from very important people [in the business community] that are willing to come to the table and help us convert these schools to charter schools," he said.

If Buffalo does not submit an adequate plan for Lafayette by Jan. 1, King said, he will ask the Board of Regents to revoke the school's registration, which would effectively close it.

"I am quite frustrated with where things stand," he said. "We have been very clear that we need plans we have confidence would change the performance of the school, and we still don't have that."

The plans Buffalo submitted for the three schools were not consistent with the statute governing such turnarounds, he said, and the district did not appear to have the capacity to effectively support the outside groups that would run the schools.

In previous interviews, King had said the state could revoke Lafayette's registration if it did not have changes in place by September. Tuesday, he said doing so four weeks before the start of school would create too much chaos.

School Board President Louis J. Petrucci said he talked to state officials in a conference call Monday, and they told him the district's applications were "materially deficient."

The Board of Education had decided in July to hire Buffalo State College to run Lafayette High School; First Hand Learning to run Bilingual Center School 33; and the Buffalo Museum of Science to run Dr. Charles Drew Science Magnet.

State officials announced that Burgard and Riverside high schools together were awarded $2.58 million for the coming year in turnaround funds. Those schools adopted a less-drastic turnaround model that leaves the district in charge.

And $6.7 million was awarded collectively for the year to Bennett and South Park high schools, International School 45 and Dr. Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute for the second year of their turnarounds.

email: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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