They are not learning their lessons in the Buffalo schools. I’m not talking about the kids. I mean the administrators.
Pamela Brown & Co. made the same mistake that factored into predecessor James Williams’ failing grade. Buffalo’s school superintendent decided that padding her staff was a bigger priority than adding teacher’s aides, cutting class sizes or pumping up programs. Mark a “U” for Unsatisfactory on her report card, which already was stamped Needs Improvement.
Brown has run the city’s troubled schools for less than a year. Last month, she barely dodged a pink slip from a divided Board of Education. An article in The Buffalo News this week revealed that, instead of a touted $1 million in savings, Brown’s administrative shuffle padded the district’s payroll by upward of $1 million. In a classic shell game, she used grant money to take salaries off budget, then applied the sort of creative arithmetic they don’t teach in math class.
The same mistake _ botoxing at the top – helped to fuel Williams’ demise. Administrative padding seems to be a Brown pattern. Shot down by the board last month was her attempt to add a second PR spinner, at $115,000 a year. A controversial $430,000 consultant is now in the board’s cross hairs. None of it inspires confidence in a district that, when it comes to State Ed mandates, has missed more deadlines than a hard-partying college freshman.
There are plenty of ways to spend an “extra” million instead of padding the top shelf. Among them are cutting class sizes, expanding after-school programs or adding aides to the district’s pre-K classes. Experts trace pre-K to higher graduation rates and fewer suspensions for inner-city kids. Brown doesn’t need me or a $430,000 consultant to tell her what parents already know.
“Put more money in pre-K; that’s when you put the hook in and get kids excited about learning,” said Linda Sweeney, whose granddaughter is a pre-K student. “Then they’re more likely to stay in school later.”
Sweeney was one of a half-dozen parents or caregivers I spoke with Wednesday outside School 17, a program for pre-K through fourth grade in the shadow of Canisius College. All of them thought district dollars ought to dial up more for kids, less for administrators.
Granted, Brown has been in charge for less than a year. She has the Sisyphean task of running a district stuffed with poor kids from broken families. But I would feel more confident in the future (and in her future) if I saw more creativity, transparency and outreach from her – and less top-heavy padding, top-down pronouncements and State Ed scolding.
Beth Swiezy says her son’s first-grade class inflated from 21 to 27 kids since the start of school. “I’d like to see smaller class sizes or more teacher aides in the classroom,” she told me. “Let’s put the money on the front lines.”
That was what I heard, from parent after parent: More money into the classroom, less for six-figure administrators. It sounded like good advice. Amazingly, I didn’t have to pay a $430,000 consultant to get it.