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Parent group pushing for changes in city after-school programs

Just like the schools, some of the after-school programs in Buffalo are broken and need fixing, critics say.

Start and end dates for after-school programs don’t coincide with the start and end of the school year.

Parents are late to get notice on dates, times and contents of the programs.

Hours and days for after-school programs vary from school to school and often end before 5 p.m., when many parents get out of work.

The quality of the programs varies from building to building.

Those are some of the complaints being raised by Buffalo public school parents who are calling on school officials to develop a more consistent, district-wide model for its after-school programming. It’s critical, the parent group said, for providing a quality extended-day learning program.

The District Parent Coordinating Council over the past few years has had several meetings with school district staff about concerns with the after-school programs, said Jessica Bauer Walker, who chairs the after-school committee for the parent group.

And each year, she said, the parent group is told the situation will be fixed – next year.

“We have seen a repeating pattern for three years running where the district says it will do better, we trust them and it’s the same thing next year once again,” Bauer Walker said.

The District Parent Coordinating Council plans to go public with its complaints at a press conference Wednesday in hopes of pressuring officials into stabilizing the district’s after-school program by January.

“Our patience has run out,” Bauer Walker said. “We want some solutions now.”

In 2013, the district and Say Yes to Education proposed partnering to offer after-school programs in 28 schools, five days a week, two hours a day. Then-Superintendent Pamela C. Brown backed away due to budgetary constraints and since then there has been a revolving door to the superintendent’s office.

But both sides said Tuesday that they are still intent on coming up with a better model, which includes ensuring a sustainable funding stream for after-school programs.

“Several different lead organizations manage after-school programs,” said Will Keresztes, chief of intergovernmental affairs, planning and community engagement for the district. “That inconsistency has become frustrating for the district and parents. We need greater predictability and stability around the district so students benefit from a comprehensive framework that yields results.”

But when?

“It would definitely be for the next school year,” said David P. Rust, executive director for Say Yes in Buffalo. “We’re in the planning phase right now.”

Eligible community-based organizations traditionally have contracted to serve as primary providers for after-school programs, but with the rising academic standards there were concerns that not all of the programs offered enough educational rigor, said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parenting Coordinating Council. The state in 2011-12 allowed the district to take over the after-school programming to ensure Buffalo teachers were involved and the students were receiving enough academic support, he said.

But, the parent group said, the schools were left on their own to run the after-school programs, which vary in quality from building to building depending largely on whether they’re paired with a strong community partner. In fact, Radford said, only this year did the district provide basic program parameters.

Some schools also indicated they don’t have enough teacher interest to properly staff an after-school program, Radford said.

Information provided to the parents by the district shows there are after-school programs at 54 city schools. But in most cases, the programs only run Monday through Thursday, and in many other instances, the programs end by 4:30 p.m. – both of which are problems for parents.

“There’s no stability to that and you can’t coordinate your child care,” Radford said.