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School boycott group says staff denies services in retaliation

The parent group that called a one-day boycott of the Buffalo Public Schools in May says district officials have been retaliating for the group's activism by withholding services that the district has routinely provided.

Parent leaders say that Debbie Buckley, the administrator who was suspended three weeks ago, told those who report to her not to provide the group with child care, dinner, security, videotaping and other services at its regular meetings this year.

"After what we did in May, Debbie Buckley directed her staff not to provide any support to the District Parent Coordinating Council," said Samuel L. Radford III, vice president of the parent group.

Interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon became aware of the situation last week and asked central office staff to provide support to the parent group. Because of the short notice, administrators told Radford, not all services could be lined up in time for the first meeting of the school year, which was Tuesday.

School Board President Louis J. Petrucci acknowledged that the district has reduced services to the parent group but said it was not done out of spite. The district performed an internal audit last spring that found federal Title I funds being spent on things not allowed under that category.

"I don't think it was saying, 'We won't do that because we don't like you,' " he said. "I think it was the result of an audit."

The District Parent Coordinating Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ask the state Education Department to audit the past three years of the district's Title I funds.

The parent group's concerns extend beyond services for its meetings.

Under school improvement grants for several of Buffalo's failing schools, the district is supposed to have a full-time, paid parent facilitator in place at those schools for the entire school year. At other schools, the facilitators work part time.

Parent facilitators at the schools, who earn $10 an hour under federal grants, say they have been told they will not start getting paid for their work until the middle of the school year.

"They're saying they don't want us to start until January," said Patricia Elliott, the parent facilitator at Waterfront Elementary School.

At last week's School Board meeting, then-Superintendent James A. Williams told the parents the delay was tied to funding not becoming available until Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year.

"We've started the process," Williams said. "We have to wait until the application is approved by the state before we get the money."

Radford noted Tuesday that other district staff whose salaries are paid with federal Title I funds have been receiving paychecks since school began.

He also said leaders of the District Parent Coordinating Council were not asked this year to sign off on the district's Title I application, as they had been in past years. The district is required to include parental involvement in its application process.

The council is the officially recognized parent group in the Buffalo Public Schools, with voting representatives from each of the schools.

"Every year, [the council] signs off on the Title I application," Radford said. "This is the first year we didn't sign off on it. Debbie Buckley directed them not to include us in the process."

The parent group has filed formal complaints with state and federal education officials. The group recently conveyed its concerns during a conference call to Roberto Reyes, the state Education Department's Title I coordinator.

"Mr. Reyes informed them that if, in fact, necessary signatures were not included with the application, that could cause a holdup in the processing of the application," state Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said in an email. "That is consistent with department policy in processing any application -- a missing element holds up the process.

"Whenever a complaint is filed with [the U.S. Education Department] regarding Title I, our Title I Office investigates; accordingly, they are looking into the claims made by [the council]."

Reyes has talked to Dixon, Burman said.

"She acknowledged the [council's] concerns and expressed a willingness to cooperate with the department in providing any information that we may need and to correct any compliance issues that may be identified," he said.