Community groups ask city lawmakers for a say in school rescue funds


US $100 bills being printed in a mint (Nexstar, file)

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB) — Nearly a half-billion dollars in federal stimulus funds are coming to Erie and Niagara counties to help school districts come back from the pandemic, but community groups feel they are being left out and gave Buffalo lawmakers an earful.

The stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan and the CARES Act have to be spent in the next three years or school districts will lose them.

Earlier this month, Buffalo school officials released their plan but called it a work in progress.

“And I really believe we could have much more effectively used this process that we already have in place to make a lot of these decisions which would then limit the amount of reaction we have to do. That’s the part, everyone is reacting to something that is in place when we could have been acting from the beginning'” said Wendy Mistretta, a district parent.

The Common Council’s Education Committee gave many of those parent and community groups a voice in a virtual hearing with leaders saying the school district seems to be offering more of the same.

“It is an insult to this community to say that you are going to be able to accelerate the learning when they are two to three grades behind the last time they were tested, and this was before the pandemic,” said Bishop Michael Badger.

Church leaders said they offered critical services when the pandemic was at its worst — such as providing food, daycare, and social services but it’s changed now that the money is coming in.

“Now they want to plan us out. We are at war and the casualties are our under-educated children,” said Rev. William Gillison, Mt. Olive Baptist Church.

Community leaders called on the committee to stay on top of the school district’s plan.

“It’s implementation, its effectiveness, as well as providing a platform for the public to engage the Board of Education and the Buffalo public school administration regarding the ongoing changes to this plan,” Samuel Radford, CAO Better Schools Better Neighborhoods said.

School officials point out, Buffalo schools are trying to build on their positives.

Buffalo Schools Chief of Intergovernmental Affairs, Will Keresztes said, “We have a graduation rate that is the highest in the history of the district. Parents are expecting that the things that trigger those successes get bolstered and strengthened.”

The Common Council has no authority to dictate policy for the school district, but in the spirit of keeping up the dialogue, the Education Committee is working with the school board to hold a joint hearing in September.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.

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