Parent facilitators are officially back at work in the Buffalo Public Schools — but under a new job title.
The facilitators — who serve as a bridge between parents and staff in each of the schools — were eliminated in September after the district was cited by the Internal Revenue Service for how it was paying them. After some pushback from parents, the district found a way around its tax dilemma and reinstated the newly named "parent-engagement liaisons" at each of the schools.
"We are happy and excited about it," said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. "We fully expected to get some resolution to this, because the superintendent has made a commitment to partner with parents."
The parent group in 2008 worked with the district to create the parent-facilitator program, which paid designated parents a stipend of $300 a month for 10 months to serve in the schools. There are 62 across the district.
The district, however, was recently audited by the IRS, which said the school system could no longer consider the parents as "consultants" and had to withhold employee payroll taxes if it was going to continue the relationship. The district discontinued the program in September.
However, the district and the DPCC worked out a resolution, allowing the parent-engagement liaisons to return to work Nov. 6, Radford said. The IRS settlement provides some cushion to continue the program as is until the end of the year, he said.
Then, the school district will transition to a slightly different model in January, although officials weren't specific. One possibility would be to hire an outside group to train the parents and run the program, avoiding the tax issue.
"We're looking forward to ensuring our parents remain involved — and even more parents become involved," said Ramona Reynolds, instructional specialist with the district's Office of Parent and Family Engagement.
Both sides sitting down to resolve the issue helped clarify the role and importance of the liaisons, said Wendy Mistretta, a DPCC first vice president.
"We are the go-between between the school and the parent," said Kellie Bolden, the representative at East High School. "Sometimes parents don't feel comfortable talking to school officials so they'll come and talk to us and we can advocate for them. We can be in the room and help them speak to the teachers and administrators of the school, so they can feel like they're being heard."
In fact, most parent liaisons remained on the job as volunteers while the issue was resolved.
"To tell the truth a lot of us haven't left," said Ti Markle, liaison at Bennett Park Montessori. "There's such a great need in the schools, we felt we can't stop."