Dozens of paid parent advocates in schools across Buffalo are out of a job.
The school district is discontinuing its “parent facilitator” program - at least in the present format - after an Internal Revenue Service audit concluded the facilitators could not be considered "consultants."
But the district's decision to cut the facilitators also raises questions from the parent group that helped get the program off the ground nearly 10 years ago.
“We’re concerned not having these parents there working will start to deteriorate the parent-engagement process going on,” said Kevin Lafferty, a public advocate with the District Parent Coordinating Council.
The parent group will call on the school district to restore the positions during a press conference scheduled for Thursday.
The parent group in 2008 worked with the district to create the parent facilitator program, which placed a parent in each school to serve as a “bridge” between the school staff and the parents, said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the DPCC.
“It’s an engagement role, but it’s also an advocacy role,” Lafferty said. “They wear a lot of hats.”
The parent facilitators were paid a stipend of $300 a month for 10 months and the money already has been budgeted for this school year, Radford said. But the more than 58 facilitators were informed during a meeting on Sept. 25 that "they were going to be terminated and stripped of their title, ending the program,” Lafferty said.
“Parents fought really hard to get to this point,” Radford said. “Right now is a critical time and we want that consistency for engaging parent. We don’t need to be taking a step back.”
This has nothing to do with an unwillingness by the district to have parents involved in the schools, explained Nathaniel Kuzma, general counsel for the school district.
Instead, he said, a recent IRS audit of the school district found that the facilitators could no longer be considered as paid "consultants" but had to be treated as employees of the district if it wanted to continue that relationship.
"Unfortunately, given the audit, we no longer can move forward with this model," said Eric Rosser, associate superintendent for student support services. "In my conversations with these parent facilitators we articulated to them a great gratitude for the work they have engaged in in the past. We're very much interested in parents continuing to support...their individual schools in multiple ways."