Sponsor a community meeting on "The State of Education in the Buffalo Public Schools," as School Board Member Betty Jean Grant did Tuesday evening in the Delavan-Grider Community Center, and one thing is guaranteed -- the community will have a lot to say, especially if the topics include student suspensions and violence.
Among the speakers were parents of two suspended students -- Willie Belton, whose son, Jeronica Davis, was suspended for being tardy too often, and Mary Artison, whose daughter was suspended for fighting with girls who constantly bully her.
Davis said that teachers were "in my face" about his lateness. Belton said his son's on-time record improved after he got a bus pass, but it was hard to get one because they live just inside the district's minimum distance for bus passes.
Artison said schools should remove disruptive students.
"You've got to get the bad ones out so the good ones can survive," she said. "Is it going to take blood? I'm not just talking about my child. I'm talking about all children."
Interim School Superintendent Yvonne Hargrave, one of the guest speakers, promised to look into both complaints. She explained the district's suspension policies, stressing that suspensions this year "are about the same as they have been, but we've had a couple of very serious problems. A child doesn't usually pick up a garbage can. That's happened twice this year."
Hargrave also urged parents to become more involved in the schools.
"We need people who are good role models to come and help us," she said. "You can always contact the principal or, if you have a program, come to my office."
Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson proposed that requiring school uniforms would improve student behavior and improve test scores.
"I asked the youth, in grade school was there any pressure on you to get dressed? They'd say a little. In high school, there's more. We need to take that obstacle out of our kids' heads," Thompson said.
"We've got to be working with those PTOs (parent teacher organizations) and principals and start getting those uniforms. I've got a black business owner who can provide a uniform, shirt and slacks, for $10."
He also encouraged individuals and businesses to bring small contributions of $25, $50 or $100 to the schools to help take students on field trips or fund scholarships.
Other speakers included Samuel Ratford of the Alliance for Quality Education, who said the basic problem with Buffalo schools is under-funding.
"The superintendent, the Board of Education, they've got to put the best face on it, but the truth is it's $200 million short," he said.