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Student meals, transfers must be priorities

Two problems that have recently made the news in the Buffalo Public Schools actually have one key component in common. They demand cooperation between district officials and the union.

So, what else is new? Only the issue of the day. This time, it is how to move more than 2,200 students to schools in good standing and how to administer a classroom breakfast program to a large number of hungry students.

And how the district can accomplish both tasks without fear of the teachers’ union filing grievances which, in the case of the classroom breakfast program, is too late. The Buffalo Teachers Federation has filed its grievance. The classroom breakfast program, instituted a couple of years ago, is at risk.

Surely, no one expects hungry children to be at their peak learning ability. Working out the logistics of feeding kids while patrolling crumbs and hoarded food items should be better solved without having to resort to extreme measures.

BTF President Philip Rumore has talked about the mess made in classrooms, which brings ants, mice and other pests. He has made a sympathetic point about teachers trying to clean up after students and the extra time it takes away from classroom study. Teachers should not have to be baby sitters and that occurs all too often. However, a grievance may not solve the problem. In fact, it may exacerbate the situation by returning to the days of poorly fed, distracted students.

The reason the program moved from the cafeteria to the classroom was due in large part to the increased numbers of students requiring the benefit. After the district started the breakfast in the classroom program across nearly all elementary schools, the number of Buffalo students eating breakfast, including high schoolers, shot up by a third from 18,000 to 24,000. The reason for the change from the cafeteria to the classroom was lack of space in the cafeterias and the time it took to process all those meals.

Coming up with ways to feed the children is an adult responsibility. The same is true of the district’s obligation to quickly react to the 2,219 applications from students wanting to be transferred out of their current schools and into better ones. The district has until the end of the week.

The applicants represent four to five times of those who have sought transfers from their under-performing schools in each of the last five years. It also represents a growing frustration among parents. Good for them. Now, the district will have to act fast.

The state Education Department ruled in late May, under federal law, students attending under-performing Buffalo schools have the right to be transferred to a school in good standing. The tricky part is whether those schools have the room to accommodate them.

There are 45 under-performing schools in the district and 12 schools in good standing. All of those schools in good standing currently have admissions criteria.

The district cannot deny students. Officials will have to find a way, whether by bringing in mobile classrooms or sending them off to Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). The solution will be outside the box. Based on the state’s original ruling in May, the district submitted a seven-page document describing how it would enable transfers to one of the 12 schools in good standing. The state rejected the plan because it lacked sufficient detail in terms of goals, progress, etc. Rejection of the district’s various plans is sadly predictable.

There is a positive note here in the district’s apparent willingness to work harder at figuring out how to accommodate students. But while officials are working on it, there is still the need for a permanent solution that will turn every school in the district into a school in good, if not great, standing.

The District Parent Coordinating Council forced the school transfer issue by seeking a ruling from the state several months ago. It is to its credit that it continues to push for what these students deserve – good schools and classroom breakfasts for those who need them.