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State ed commissioner: Don't appoint Buffalo School Board

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia would not be in favor of a Buffalo Board of Education that was appointed by the mayor.

“I just don’t think that’s a better system,” Elia said.

“We have a long-standing – centuries-standing – tradition of having representatives from the community being involved in education,” she said. “I think that’s a good thing.”

That was just one issue the commissioner was asked about on Monday during a meeting with The Buffalo News editorial board, which recently called for mayoral control and an appointed School Board in Buffalo.

Only about 7 percent of city voters participated in the May 7 School Board elections and, as others have suggested, the commissioner thought Buffalo may be better served by moving the date of the election.

“Why don’t you use your voice to change that?” Elia told the editorial board. “Because there are many places that don’t have their vote separated from the general elections and when you have higher turnout you’re going to have people that are thoughtful about a number of different things.”

The commissioner is visiting Western New York for a couple days with stops that include local arts institutions.

“Very often we aren’t making sure there are strong connections there," Elia said, "and it’s a benefit to everyone.”

The commissioner addressed a number of educational issues Monday during the hourlong, wide-ranging meeting, including:

Progress of the Buffalo Public Schools

Under the state's new accountability system, which is based not on just test scores and graduation rates but a variety of other factors like attendance and student progress, 73 percent of city schools are considered to be in good standing, Elia said.

“I think the data is showing that Buffalo is moving forward,” Elia said. “There are good things happening.”

Elia mentioned the school district's work with the University at Buffalo to help turnaround BUILD Community School and talked about the importance of establishing a quality pre-K program to get students on track early, and monitoring their progress through the early grades to make sure reforms are working. She also cited the entire community's role in making sure kids are in school, especially in the early grades, because attendance is "a really big part of success."

Contract extension for Superintendent Kriner Cash

“I’m very pleased you still have Kriner Cash here,” said Elia, who recruited Cash to Buffalo. “I think he’s done a really good job pulling this district forward."

Cash’s contract expires in 2020. The newly elected School Board will decide whether to offer an extension.

“I certainly believe when you have a superintendent that’s done good things in your district, especially in an urban district, that should be a clear part of the determination as to whether he gets an extended contract,” Elia said.

Teacher evaluations

The State Legislature in January ended the mandatory linking of teacher evaluations to student performance on certain state tests.

How will the state handle teacher evaluations moving forward?

"Very carefully," Elia said, without being specific. She said the state is looking at what factors should be considered in the new evaluations and noted that, even under the old evaluation system, no teachers lost their jobs because of it.

"That law just went into effect,” she said. “Everything didn’t change in the law, so we’re looking at exactly what are the requirements that need to be put into place. All of the things suggested by State Ed will go out for comment, I’m sure multiple times, so there clearly are major changes coming in some parts of the law.”

School needs

“Safety and security for one,” Elia said. “That is an area we know that some schools have said, ‘This is an increase in our need and we aren’t getting specific funding for that.' ”

The commissioner also mentioned that school districts want more resources for arts programs and support staff, like guidance counselors and school psychologists.

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