The leader of Buffalo’s parent group says the Board of Education and superintendent have violated several state and federal laws over the last year, and he will ask the state education commissioner to investigate and consider removing several board members.
The district has violated the law 14 times in the last year, according to Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.
This is the first time that the parent group, which has been critical of the teachers union, has sought penalties against leaders of the school district.
“We’re asking the commissioner to do an investigation to determine whether this is a pattern of willful violation of the law, and whether there are School Board members who consistently break the law,” he said.
Some of the more flagrant violations, he said, include the district’s submission of a student transfer plan that accommodated less than one-fourth of the 2,200 students in low-performing schools who requested a transfer; the adoption of class schedules that fail to meet the state requirements for physical education; and the adoption of a district improvement plan that failed to include the required parent input.
Asked how many board members he was suggesting may have an established pattern of violating the law, Radford pointed to what he said was a series of votes on key issues that find the six veteran board members on one side of an issue – in his opinion, violating the law – and the three newcomers, Carl P. Paladino, James M. Sampson and Theresa Harris-Tigg, on the other side of the issue.
For instance, the three newcomers voted against the student transfer plan that Radford alleges violated the law. Supporters were the six members who have been on the board prior to this summer: Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, John B. Licata, Florence D. Johnson, Jason M. McCarthy, Mary Ruth Kapsiak and Sharon Belton-Cottman.
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said she is working to move the district forward – including finding ways to honor as many transfer requests as possible and including parents in key decisions. Any shortcomings, she said, will be corrected.
“From the beginning of my tenure here, I have reached out to parents and the community to be involved in strategic planning,” she said. “If we haven’t done it perfectly up to this point, this is something we can improve upon.”
Nevergold said the actions by the parent council were a “total surprise” because its members have been involved in district planning.
She noted that its members helped shape the district’s five-year strategic plan and that the board’s approval of the district transfer plan was an unusual requirement by the state.
“I’m at a loss that they would look to contact the commissioner at this point,” she said.
A spokesman for the state Education Department declined to comment, noting that Commissioner John B. King Jr. serves as a judge in appeals brought before him under various sections of state education law, including the section that pertains to board member removal.
“It would therefore be inappropriate to comment on appeals that are likely to come before him,” Jonathan Burman said in an email.
Radford said parents will likely file three formal complaints with King in the next few weeks, the first of which will address alleged problems with the district’s improvement plan.
Another will address the district’s failure to meet state requirements for physical education.
The third will address shortcomings in the student transfer plan, if the board adopts it at its next meeting. The board already adopted a transfer plan, which the state rejected for deficiencies.
Radford said the revised plan still fails to provide seats at schools in good standing for 1,700 or more students who requested them.
Brown said the district is moving forward to move as many as 500 students this school year.
The district plans to create options for all those students by the next school year. But Radford says that’s not soon enough.
He points to the district’s quick reopening of the former Pinnacle Charter School this month as a district school as proof that large-scale changes can happen on a tight schedule. The district interviewed and hired staff for the school in less than two weeks, and the state Education Department fast-tracked approval of the school.
“We can do it,” Radford said. “In the next 30 days, we can get all our kids moved.”
Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes said that after a meeting of stakeholders this week, he asked state Education Department officials whether they would commit to providing building aid for the district to open schools to accommodate some of the student transfers.
That and a commitment from the state to fast-track approvals for new schools would be necessary for the district to accommodate all transfer requests this year, Keresztes said Wednesday.
The state will not provide building aid to open schools, Burman said in an email few hours later.
“The state Education Department cannot provide additional building aid for capital costs, as Buffalo has excess space available to use for this purpose,” Burman said. “We have already communicated this information to the Buffalo Public Schools.”