BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The Buffalo School District is under fire from Albany and under direct orders to act fast.
Some of the state's top educators came to the Queen City Thursday. They want to know how the district plans to turn around Lafayette and East High Schools where the graduation rates fell last year below 30 percent.
NYS Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Slentz said, "We no longer will 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."
But Dr. Casey Young, the principal of East High School, says things are already turning around.
"If you look at the data of East High, we have graduation rates that have doubled since last year, the suspension rate has gone down by 50 percent, school violence down by 90 percent, our attendance has gone up. All the indicators for school success are there but at the same time we're being threatened with closure and denied funding," Dr. Young argued.
The school board held a special meeting Thursday evening, after top educators met with Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown.
The district has only three weeks to choose one of two turnaround plans outlined by the State Education Department. Either let all students at those schools enroll in BOCES vocational classes, or have BOCES take over management of the schools.
Board member Dr. Theresa Harris-Tiggs said, "Our children are in a crisis. We're not acting like they're in a burning building. We're acting like we can really think about this. They're in a burning building! We've got to get our kids out of there!
One of the greatest challenges to either plan is money.
Buffalo schools Chief Financial Officer Barbara Smith said, "So the cost for tuition for BOCES would range between $859,000 and $3.5 million."
Dr. Brown added, "This could possibly be offset by special services aid, however, that aid would not be available to us until the 2014-15 school year. So we would bear the full cost for this coming school year."
Teachers, parents and administrators have already said, they do not want to lose the schools' existing partnership with Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Brown told the board, she thinks State Education might allow Johns Hopkins and BOCES to work together.
Board member Sharon Belton-Cottman said, "If anything, BOCES can learn from John[s] Hopkins how to become an EPO."
Added board member James Sampson, "I would like to see, in writing, that third option from the commissioner, before we would entertain a motion to that effect."
But the clock is ticking. If Buffalo doesn't make some decisions by August 12, the state is prepared to shut down East and Lafayette.
Next week, July 22 and 24, the district will hold meetings at East and Lafayette High Schools. Those are the public's chances to weigh in on the two options for a partnership with BOCES.
School board members will have another special meeting - where, presumably they'll vote - on July 31.
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