BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — The Buffalo Public School District took the wraps off a proposed plan for spending $289-million in federal funding part of the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Plan (ESSER).
The district is proposing to spend $175-million of the federal funding to help support students academically.
District leaders say students are in major need of support after coming out of more than a year of remote learning.
“We can then make sure that every child — present, future — has an opportunity, has greater equity, greater access and greater quality to achieve,” declared Dr Kriner Cash, superintendent, Buffalo Public Schools.
Dr. Cash held up a more than 109-page draft document during a Thursday morning news conference with school board members.
Cash said the draft outlines proposed areas of spending all designed to improve the lives of city school children.
But Cash noted it also addresses many challenges students face outside the classroom.
“Ten significant challenges that are impacting our kids outside of school”, said Cash.
The superintendent said the draft document looks at four main spending areas:
- Reopen schools safely, making sure all buildings have proper air quality and safe drinking water at a cost of $38 million
- Providing student support services
- Upgrades to district’s Information Technology & digital at a cost of $39 million
- Helping student academic growth at a cost $175 million.
“Is the whole area of teaching and learning and our core business - how are we going to continue to support students' academic growth in schools?" Cash stated.
Superintendent Cash says the biggest piece of spending will be for academics.
“That is the big part of the pie — that is 60-percent of the pie and that is $175-million that will be invested there,” Cash explained.
The working document would include funding for student support services because so many Black and Brown families suffered during the pandemic.
“Many of our students suffer from anxiety — depression from eating disorders — from all kinds of effects — psycho — social emotional,” stated Cash.
The draft includes safely reopening schools, spending $38 million to make sure all school buildings have proper air quality and lead-free water.
Spending another $39 million in upgrades to the district's information technology.
But a bulk of spending would be spent on academic support, including the creation of several new high schools and two gender-based schools — one for females, one for males.
“And there's a lot of good research coming out of other schools around the country that when you do gender based academies and you focus on the specific and particular needs that boys and girls have in their development students grow faster and go faster,” Cash noted.
“I see investment in counseling staff. I see investment in social work. I saw a suggestion for instrumental music in all of our elementary schools,” remarked Larry Scott, at-large school board member. “I saw significant investment in culturally responsive education.”
Buffalo School Board members Scott and Paulette Woods appeared at the draft unveiling. Both saying they are pleased with how it would support city students.
“I think it's headed in the right direction. It’s focused and the main thing for me in putting the plan together — our parent groups were involved,” declared Woods.
Wendy Mistretta, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said her group provided some initial feedback, but were promised they would see the draft before it was submitted to the state.
“And we've been reminding them of that — every chance we get — when are we going to see the draft — even at the last board meeting — it was brought up again and we've never seen it, but we still haven't seen it,” Mistretta described.
But Mistretta says about 15 parents will be part of a district focus group this month to share their thoughts.
Mistretta says she wants to know how the district will identify which students need help.
“How are we going to do that? How are we going to figure out which students need what kind of support?,” Mistretta said.
As for city students who fell off the radar screen during the pandemic and were not in attendance for remote learning, Cash says that is also addressed in the draft plan.
The district is suggesting parent liaisons monitor students not reporting for class.
“They can knock on doors and they can make calls,” said Cash.
Cash said the district would pay those parents stipends to conduct the work 30-hours a week.
Woods says there is an entire section on the board monitoring it.
“Our focus — bring every kid back to school,” Woods said.
The district said the plan also would provide training for teachers and hiring more staffers.
The superintendent says this draft will not be approved right away and will remain fluid throughout the summer.
“This is ongoing work. It is not done. This is going to be fluid throughout the summer,” Cash replied.
The lengthy draft will be on-line. @Buffalo_Schools encouraging community to take a look on the schools website. It’s a working document. The draft calls to spend $175-million on academic help for students. @WKBW https://t.co/AKuDnPj48B pic.twitter.com/tIhFewetaH— eileen buckley (@eileenwkbw) July 8, 2021
The superintendent is asking the community to stay engaged because he says the district is at a “tipping point”.
“But we’re at a tipping point,” responded Cash. “And we’re either going to keep going that way or you’re going to be headed for more municipal decline.”