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School district needs to find out why funding requests are routinely rejected

When it comes to applying for state funding, the Buffalo School District seems to have difficulty getting it right the first time. Or, in some cases, the second or third time.

Turnaround money for three schools was saved when a revised application met state requirements. Waterfront Elementary, North Park Middle Academy and Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy were each awarded more than $4 million in federal School Improvement Grants.

Not so fortunate was Hamlin Park School, which also serves elementary and middle school students. It was denied funding for a second time in this latest round of grant awards. The district’s first application for Hamlin Park was denied in March.

These problems follow the uproar surrounding turnaround applications for Lafayette and East high schools. Those applications were repeatedly deemed unacceptable, forcing State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. to take the unprecedented step of giving Erie I BOCES a role in turning the schools around.

Now School Board member James Sampson wants to know why the application process is so daunting for the administration.

Sampson is seeking board approval to have Superintendent Pamela C. Brown provide a detailed history, review and assessment of why the administration has been unsuccessful with its turnaround grant applications and how the process can be changed. The board shouldn’t hesitate to go along.

A possible explanation for the problem may have been provided by Debra Sykes, who oversees the grant applications as chief of strategic alignment and innovation. Sykes said the state has been requesting more specific and detailed applications than it has in the past.

Getting specific worked for Waterfront, North Park and Herman Badillo schools. Those applications included examples of how broad concepts will be executed in each building, according to Sykes.

The teachers union is blaming the State Education Department for not providing proper feedback, yet other districts have managed to follow the directions.

The Buffalo School District should be able to offer specifics on how the money will be spent without continual urging from the state. The district simply doesn’t seem to be all that interested in getting it right the first time. Perhaps because district officials don’t agree with certain conditions and hope to create wiggle room by leaving the details deliberately foggy. Or perhaps the district is unable to come up with specific plans for the schools. If so, that just reinforces the need for outside help.

Buffalo schools are doing a poor job of educating the city’s children. Millions of dollars are available to improve education, and the district should be doing all it can to grab those dollars and put them to work. Instead, it’s one delay after another, with the children once again the losers.

The district needs to get it right the first time. Sampson’s proposal is a move in the right direction.