By Jill Terreri
Concerns about the cost, loss of instructional time and apparent duplication in services were aired when a panel of city lawmakers brought in Board of Education members and school Superintendent Pamela Brown to Council Chambers today to discuss the recent mandate from state Education Commissioner John King, that the district partner with Erie 1 BOCES to turn around two failing schools, East and Lafayette high schools.
During an Education Committee meeting, Chairman Demone Smith said he was confused why the state would mandate that students be given the opportunity to take BOCES classes if they desired, when the district already offers many of the same programs.
The district's success in graduating 85 percent of its 6,300 enrolled students from its career and technical programs was discussed, as was the cost of $7,600 per student to send them to BOCES, compared to the district's cost of $1,500 per student for its own career and technical education program. The district will also be losing grants, which makes the cost for Buffalo taxpayers that much more.
School Board Member Sharon Belton-Cottman also said the district was concerned that if students are going to be bused to BOCES - Aero Drive in Cheektowaga was mentioned as a possible location - what would happen if they miss the bus and have no way to get back to the city. The district was already planning to expand its career and technical programs, and Cottman noted that district officials from Syracuse recently toured Buffalo to learn about its vocational training.
"It's almost as if someone didn't do their homework," Cottman said, noting the programs were a model in May, but deemed not good enough in July.
Brown is concerned about the loss of instruction time, and how students who are learning English would be accommodated.
"The time element is really, really important," she said.
Cottman also expressed concerns about the state-appointed distinguished educator, Judy Elliott, and suggested that she be replaced with someone who lives in Buffalo and can be available to the district more.
Brown said that the graduation rates at East and Lafayette have shown some improvement, (27 to 46 percent at East, 21 to 23 percent at Lafayette) but acknowledged that the schools need to improve.
Brown said she will present to the board the option she prefers, out of those offered by the state, at a meeting on Wednesday.
North Council Member Joseph Golombek panned State Ed's mandate, noting that the plan does nothing to build community in neighborhoods or to cut down on the time kids spend on the bus.
"I think this is atrocious, what's going on," he said.
Smith questioned where the district will come up with the money. After an hour-long discussion, he thanked the district officials for coming in, but admitted he still found the mandate confusing.