State Education Department officials informed Buffalo school district leaders this week that the district does not have to displace nearly 600 students at Martin Luther King Elementary School 39. But School Board members angrily responded Wednesday that this news comes too late for a district that has gone into overdrive to convert MLK into a new Medical Campus High School this fall.
MLK parents, meanwhile, have once again been heaved into the swirling debate as they hunt for the most stable educational option for their children.
Several School Board members Wednesday accused state officials of pressuring the district to close MLK, a chronically low-performing school, then having a change of heart that could jeopardize a $3.9 million federal grant to turn the MLK into a career-oriented high school in good standing.
“We’re threading needles left and right, then the State Ed turns around and says ‘Wait a minute. We’d like you to put in jeopardy this $4 million grant that the federal government has given you.’ It doesn’t make sense,” said board member John Licata.
“I, too, am amazed at this ‘offer’ at this late date,” said President Barbara Seals Nevergold. “Why didn’t they offer that option early on?”
The district originally told parents last fall that their children could stay at the school next year but later decided that MLK should be converted to a Medical Campus High School that would eventually serve grades five through 12.
On May 28, State Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Slentz sent a letter to the district agreeing that MLK should close and limiting the new Medical Campus High School to grades nine through 12, with only grades nine and 10 enrolling in September.
But Slentz apparently contacted Superintendent Pamela Brown on Tuesday and board member James Sampson Wednesday and said MLK students could stay put this fall while the district comes up with better academic options.
Since there are no seats left at any high-performing city schools, state officials have expressed concern that these children would be hurt if forced to transfer to another struggling school, and that the receiving schools would be greatly burdened by an influx of children with high academic needs.
District-Parent Coordinating Council President Samuel Radford III said MLK parents strongly favor having their children remain together at the school.
Brown indicated that the district needs to create a new high school in good standing to give parents in low-performing schools a viable transfer option. But Radford responded that a new school in good standing that would open for 200 students should not be built “on the back of 600 displaced children.”
Board members Florence Johnson and Sharon Belton-Cottman, meanwhile, said they were “appalled” that Slentz had called board member Sampson, who expects to be named the next board president.
That led to a heated exchange between the two board factions.
“I’m just wondering why board members are having conversations with state officials when we have staff that are paid to do that,” said board member Sharon Belton-Cottman.
Sampson responded, “I’ll answer that. He called me, number one, and number two, I’ll talk to anybody I want to.”
When Belton-Cottman accused Sampson of “undermining” the district’s staff, member Carl Paladino responded, “Stop telling us what to do.”
“You tell everybody what to do!” Belton-Cottman angrily retorted. “You think you’re God.”
Replay the live blog of the meeting at www.buffalonews.com/schoolzone