BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Some heavy hitters from the State Education Department were in Buffalo Thursday as they work with the school district to hammer out some major plans to turn around failing schools.
The graduation rate at Buffalo's Lafayette High School last year was just 21 percent. At East High School, just 27-percent of students graduated. The state is demanding the district come up with big changes or the two schools will be shutdown.
By August 12, the district must decide if BOCES takes over both high schools, or gives the students of those schools the option to attend BOCES. That directive comes directly from State Education Commissioner John King, and it's an edict that has to be followed.
Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Slentz said, "We will no longer sit idly by and watch poor performing schools exist while the adults are saying that things are going swimmingly. We simply won't tolerate that anymore. The commissioner is ready to take aggressive action, as he already has."
With just three-and-a-half weeks for Buffalo schools to figure out what to do, News 4 has been trying to reach Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown, only to be told repeatedly by her staff that the superintendent was "out of the district" and unavailable.
They also stated they did not know where Dr. Brown was and had no idea when she would return.
"I, fortunately, was able to take a few days off and so I was out of district and just returned last night," Brown said. "I do want to assure everybody that I have been in communication with board members and others in preparation for this meeting today."
The superintendent finally emerged in public Thursday to meet with officials from the State Education Department.
"We will have further discussion with the board. We will share the information we received today with the rest of the board. We plan to have stakeholder meetings before decisions would be made," Brown said.
Robert Bennett of the NYS Board of Regents said, "You cannot shift this decision to anybody but the superintendent and the nine elected members of the school board. Now, if they don't do the right thing, and they don't follow up on this, then the next move will be up the commissioner of education."
The teachers union has been fighting a potential BOCES takeover of Lafayette and East. Teachers had been working with John Hopkins University to improve student achievement.
"And to have people from Albany who haven't even set foot in these schools pull the rug out from underneath them is absolutely horrendous. And they need to hear it from the teachers," said Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
The principals and some teachers at Lafayette and East got an audience with the state education officials and pleaded their case.
No matter what, Buffalo schools must partner with BOCES in some way, either by allowing students to enroll in BOCES courses or having BOCES takeover the schools. It's up to the district to decide how. And bottom line, the move will cost money, which will mean re-aligning the budget.
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