A group of parents and others frustrated with public education is urging the Buffalo Common Council to explore a city takeover of the school district.
“The reality is, one of the biggest things affecting your ability to bring people into the city, to grow the city, is the quality of the schools,” said District Parent Coordinating Council President Sam Radford. “Why would a Council member want to stay powerless to affect the school system?”
The group, a subcommittee of the Council, is led by Majority Leader Demone A. Smith and includes Radford and three representatives from the Community Action Organization of Erie County.
“It just doesn’t seem to get any better,” said district parent Patricia A. Elliott, who also works for CAO. “The district continues to keep our children in this ongoing crisis.”
The Council and Mayor Byron W. Brown have little say over the district now, while School Board members can provide limited oversight because they are poorly paid, do not have a staff of their own and are constrained by labor contracts, Radford said.
“If we’re going to pay our tax dollars for a failing system, we would rather have the city control it,” he said.
City students, meanwhile, cannot take advantage of the Say Yes program, which provides a college education, because 47 percent do not graduate, subcommittee members said.
The group is also requesting that the Council ask the city Law Department to explore the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the Board of Education and the state Education Department over the number of failing schools in the district and the inability of the district to place students in higher-performing schools.
However, in addition to representing the Common Council and the mayor’s office in legal matters, the Law Department also represents the Board of Education, according to Article 12 of the city charter.
“We’re looking for specific remedies,” Radford said. “You cannot leave a child in a failing school against their will.”
Smith could not be reached to comment Saturday.
The group is also concerned that racial minorities are disproportionately affected by the shortage of seats available in high-performing schools.
The Council could take up the matter when it meets Tuesday, or the issue could be discussed during an upcoming committee meeting. The group would like the Law Department to respond in 45 days.
Smith will hold a forum at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Council Chambers on education issues, including parent and teacher engagement, getting schools into good standing, graduation rates and student achievement, neighborhood schools and mentoring.