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Brown says he is open to mayoral control of city schools

Mayor Byron W. Brown says he is open to mayoral control if that’s what it takes to improve Buffalo’s schools, but feels a conversation is needed with parents and others in the city – and statewide – about how to reform public education.

“I am completely open to it, as I’ve said in the past,” Brown said Thursday. “I’m open to that as well as other possibilities. I would love to be involved in the conversation on how this is shaped.”

“We need to improve education outcomes in our children in Buffalo and statewide sooner rather than later,” he added.

Brown was responding to comments made Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his State of the State speech, in which he singled out Buffalo as an example of a chronically failing district. Cuomo said he supports allowing a nonprofit takeover group or turnaround expert to assume control over any district that the state considers to be failing for three consecutive years.

Another possible option, Cuomo said, would be to allow for mayoral takeover of chronically low-achieving districts, assuming there’s local interest in that option.

The mayor’s response underscore what seems to be building concern about the direction the district is headed. Earlier this week, M&T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers called on local business and political leaders to come together to figure out solutions. Bishop Richard J. Malone applauded another of Cuomo’s proposals that would create a tax credit to finance scholarships for low-income children to attend Catholic or private schools.

Brown noted Thursday that Cuomo offered a number of proposals for improving schools, and that more details are needed on many of them. The mayor said he would not, for example, oppose more charter schools in the city.

He broached the idea of mayoral control last year in response to community frustration over the state of Buffalo schools.

“I think from the level of frustration and from the conversations that I’m having with many people and from what I’m hearing from many people and from many parents, it’s definitely something that we are studying and looking at more closely,” Brown said. But the mayor also emphasized at the time that he is not actively seeking control of the district.

The model would be somewhat of a departure for Brown, who has taken a largely hands-off approach to the school system during his tenure.

Opponents of mayoral control argue that consolidation of power in the Mayor’s Office cuts a key stakeholder out of the process: Voters. Additionally, it is difficult to say for sure whether the academic gains in some cities with mayoral control can exclusively be attributed to the model.

When the topic surfaced last year, Brown said he would not actively pursue such a model without strong community support, and any move in that direction would require state legislation, something that has been a problem for other mayors in New York seeking greater control over their cities’ school systems.

Critics locally also question whether City Hall would be any more effective than the school district bureaucracy.

“That would be stupid,” School Board member Carl Paladino said. “Especially in the case of Buffalo. You know how the city operates.”

News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: sschulman@buffnews.com and tlankes@buffnews.com