And, so, here we are again. The Buffalo School District submits a required form to the State Education Department, which kicks it back as unacceptable – and for reasons the district knew about ahead of time. What gives?
This is a continuing problem for Superintendent Pamela C. Brown, and it is becoming tedious. Either she is politically naive, and doesn’t understand the damage these episodes do to her standing, or she is indifferent to the consequences of repeatedly failing to meet application standards established by the state.
Once again it was about school improvement plans, but this time also about properly including parents in developing the district’s application for millions of dollars in federal grants. As a consequence, the state is putting a hold on the $36 million in funds until the district holds “meaningful” discussions with the District Parent Coordinating Council, as required by state law.
The district may be able to accomplish that requirement before the state’s hold hurts the district, but the fact is that $36 million that should be coming to Buffalo is being held up, and for reasons that were easily avoidable.
“They’re struggling with the fact that they have to actually respect parents as something other than a group that does baked goods sales,” said DPCC President Samuel Radford III, speaking both of Brown and her predecessor, James Williams.
That seems clear enough, given that Radford says he put Brown and the School Board on notice in August and September that the council would file a complaint with the state if they submitted these plans and applications without further consultation with the DPCC. They didn’t, it did and the state responded in the only way it could. Our $36 million has been locked away.
It’s not as though seeking parental feedback would force the district to change its plan. The state requires only that the district solicit parental input. The district is then free to ignore the wishes of parents. The way the district ignores the parents organization is one more example of the district’s lack of transparency in its operations.
One would think that educators could learn. State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. has bluntly complained that school officials in Buffalo have been unable to submit an acceptable application the first time and, even then, not without state officials holding their hands. The district finally got a school turnaround plan right, but only after the state painstakingly walked leaders through the process. Now, it has failed again. Is it any wonder King remains doubtful about the district’s ability to turn around its failing schools?
Brown’s continued employment in the district is no sure thing. She barely survived a vote to dismiss her this year and, with new elections coming in the spring, the balance of power on the board may well change. This would be a good moment for her to start making the case for her ability to do the job. But she can’t do that if she can’t even follow simple instructions that require the district to consult with parents before submitting grant applications.
Except in the Buffalo School District, that’s not a hard concept to understand.