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Education Commissioner Seeks Ability To Replace Buffalo School Board

10:02 PM, Aug 15, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, NY - New York's Education Commissioner wants the state legislature to pass a bill, giving the Board of Regents the authority to take over school boards in districts failing academically and/or financially.

Under the proposal, there would be benchmarks for state intervention, involving a three-step approach, with a takeover the last step if a district continues to fail to implement mandated changes.

"The Board of Regents has put forward a legislative proposal that would allow the board to remove a school board in a district that is chronically under-performing, and require the appointment of an education oversight board that would be similar to a fiscal control board," Commissioner John King told WGRZ-TV.

"That control board would then have responsibility for managing the district," King said.

Giving the Board of Regents that type of authority isn't a new idea. A bill to do so was first proposed in 2011; however, it never made it out of committee that year, or the next .

A similar bill was also introduced during the last legislative session in 2013. However, that bill suffered a similar fate.

"It has not yet been acted upon, but that's certainly one of the options we believe should be on the table for the Board of Regents when you have a district that is chronically under-performing and, from a governance perspective unable to move forward," said King.

To hear King describe the Buffalo Public Schools, its top administrators, and its Board of Education, Buffalo might be ripe as a takeover target.

King notes Buffalo has, in recent times, missed deadlines to enact acceptable plans to turn around troubled schools, implement school choice plans, and agreements for teacher evaluations.

"The district leadership has a set of obligations. Those obligations haven't been fulfilled," King said.

"On the surface, I'd have to say I could not be supportive of something like that," said NYS 141st district Assembly Member Crystal Peoples- Stokes (D-Buffalo)

Stokes points out that despite whether they are performing well or poorly, the members of the Buffalo Board of Education are duly elected, and is lukewarm to the idea of taking any power away from voters who put them in office.

"People in local areas should be free to elect their own representatives and get the job done that way," she said.

"It's not just the school board," said NYS 60th District Senator Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo). "There are there are so many factors as to why these schools are failing, that (taking over school boards) is not a catch-all that is going to solve all the problems."

Yet both agree with the Commissioner's assessment that those running the Buffalo Public Schools have struggled at times to advance reforms, some in the form of mandates from the state, to turn around failing schools in New York's second largest city, where both graduation rates and student performance on standardized tests leave much to be desired.

Enough so, that they aren't ready to dismiss King's proposal, seeking more power to intervene, out of hand.

"While I am more of a proponent of local districts handling their own business, when we get to the state that we are in Buffalo, maybe we do have to have somebody else looking at it," said Peoples-Stokes. "I'm going to give consideration to any recommendation that comes up that says we might be able to do something different to get a different result."

"We have a major problem in the Buffalo school district," agreed Grisanti. "I think administrative wise, for the people running the Buffalo schools, there's got to be a lot of questions answered."

Grisanti also told Two On Your Side that the Senate sponsor of the legislation King desires, but which has yet to pass, will be coming to Buffalo in September.

According to Grisanti, NYS Senator John Flanagan (R-2nd District), a Long Island republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, will be in the Queen City next month to hold a public hearing on education reforms. However, a firm date, place, and time for his visit has yet to be confirmed.

At that time it may be learned whether he intends to once again proffer the bill empowering the Board of Regents to take over local school boards during the coming legislative session.

"I don't think it's a good idea for the state to become a foster parent here,"" said Lt. Governor Robert Duffy, during a visit to the Buffalo are in June. "I think the Governor would prefer results to come locally, to come from the ground up...I would hope there would be a number of things that would be done before it ever gets to that."

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2

WGRZ-TV, wgrz.com

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