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Receivership offers a measure of hope for students in Buffalo’s failing schools

Something had to be done to force improvements on the state’s worst-performing schools, including those in Buffalo, or students would continue to be penalized by leaders who can’t get the job done.

The state Board of Regents made the right decision – indeed, the only decision – by adopting unanimously rules for a “school receivership” program.

The decision should serve notice to those running failing schools that there is little time left for them to make dramatic changes.

The Buffalo School District has been unable to provide a high-quality education to all its students. If it takes a receiver to bring about long overdue change, the district will have brought the situation on itself.

The receivership program was agreed to by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a strong advocate for education reform, and the State Legislature as part of the state budget process. The Regents have been working since then on the rules to implement the program.

The rules approved Tuesday allow the state education commissioner to approve an individual or nonprofit to oversee an academically struggling school. The receiver can be a superintendent or an outside entity who would be expected to negotiate with unions for improvements in how the school is being run.

If those two parties cannot reach an agreement, even with the assistance of an outside conciliator, the education commissioner would make the final ruling. The last part of that process is critical.

Freeing the logjam that prevents students from getting a proper education means that someone has to pull out the first log. Right now reforms are blocked by the inability of unions and administrators to agree on the way forward. The receivership program would empower the education commissioner to impose a solution.

The loss of local control over schools would be unfortunate, but so far the result of local control has been unacceptable.

Schools in Buffalo are ripe for receivership. A majority of the system’s schools are considered underperforming, some for years. Yet students have remained consigned to those schools, where for many, graduation is just a theory. And many of the ones who do manage to graduate need remedial courses in college. It is a discouraging situation that has been going on for years.

Turning that around won’t be easy, and one new program won’t be enough. But part of the solution could be found in the receivership model, which dozens of Buffalo schools may be eligible for in the next couple of years.

When the new rules take effect, five schools will fall under the direct authority of the superintendent, not the School Board. If those schools fail to show improvement in one year, they would then be transferred to the authority of the external receiver for up to three years.

On the road to receivership are Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Futures Preparatory School, West Hertel Academy and Burgard and South Park high schools. Another 20 schools in the city may find themselves in the same situation after a couple of years. In addition to acquiring new leadership, those schools would be able to access $75 million in funding to help ease the transition.

It is no surprise that the model has its critics, especially from union leaders, and skepticism from others who doubt whether it will work. In truth, we don’t know what will happen under receivership. What we do know is that the current system is failing, and changes must be made.