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Buffalo School Board members call for 'equitable' budget

Eileen Buckley
WBFO News File Photo

What began as a debate about why so many Buffalo schools don't offer music to students turned into some School Board members saying they won't vote for the proposed budget unless it's more equitable.

The School Board is supposed to approve the spending plan in two weeks. For now, that remains in doubt.

With only five board members attending a Finance and Operations Committee meeting, several said they want additional help for the most needy schools. Ferry District Board Member Sharon Belton-Cottman said the most troubled schools don't get the help they need.

"If you had given an instructional coach maybe over to Burgard or maybe over to MST,  maybe I would feel a little bit better that something is going to get done this year," Belton-Cottman said, "but, right now, what you are asking us to do is sign off on a budget that we know is not going to meet the needs of the children and that's not our priority. Meeting the needs of the children are first. You have no problem hiring all these staff members, all these other people, but is it making it to the classroom."

They are eyeing a $3 million superintendent's equity discretionary fund, arguing it should be used to ease disparities among city schools, especially high schools. The fund is intended to be spent to improve equity in city schools.

That would mean academic coaches for some, music for others and even Spanish teachers to meet graduation requirements. North District Board Member Hope Jay said there has to be recognition some students need more help than others.

"That's why we're failing some of these kids in these schools because they're not all equal," Jay said. "She's right. The vast students at a Hutch Tech or another criterion school, they're threes and fours and they are advanced and they're in advanced placement classes and they don't require the same amount of support as the students that are at Burgard or South Park."

Threes and fours is a reference to the state's proficiency grades: threes and fours are students proficient in English or math, ones and twos aren't.

The school-based budget system means principals have to choose within possible options, like deciding on a reading coach instead of a music teacher.

"So this budget should give us something we are demanding as equity and fairness to our schools and I think everybody should give input," said Central District Board Member Paulette Woods, "saying South Park needs this language, your school needs that and give them some directives that this is what we would like to see in a revised budget package, if you want this board to move it."

City budget hearings begin Monday in Common Council chambers beginning at 10 a.m. with Buffalo Public schools. Budget workshops begin Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.