Buffalo education leaders, with 25 schools to turn around, seek details on receivership model



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BUFFALO, New York — District leaders under state orders to fix 25 failing Buffalo schools or lose control of them say they want to hear more about what New York expects under a new receivership law, even while divided about the model's chances for success.

Under the law passed in April, 20 schools statewide that are classified as persistently struggling — failing since 2006 — and 124 more called struggling because of low performance since 2012, will start the upcoming school year in the receivership of their districts' superintendents.

If the persistently struggling schools don't improve in a year, an independent receiver approved by the state education commissioner will take over. Struggling schools have two years to show "demonstrable improvement," under the law.

As receivers, the superintendents will have an array of new options, including expanding the school day or year, renegotiating collective bargaining agreements or converting the schools to charter schools or community schools that provide additional services like health care and counseling.

Buffalo has five schools classified as persistently struggling and 20 considered struggling, the most of any upstate district. The other persistently struggling schools are in Rochester, with four, and New York City, with seven. Albany, Hempstead, Syracuse and Yonkers each have one.

"It's not logical, it's not possible for a turnaround situation to happen in that short amount of time," Buffalo school board member Barbara Seals Nevergold said Tuesday, ahead of a two-day Education Department informational conference on receivership in Albany. "I'm not in favor of receivership. I don't think it's fair to the district, and I don't see how we're going to see great strides on this."

But board member Larry Quinn said the troubled district should be "thrilled."

Buffalo is without a permanent superintendent and the district and its teachers union have been unable to agree on a new contract since the last one expired in 2004. On Tuesday, the board and union announced dueling legal complaints, each accusing the other of bargaining in bad faith.

"What the receiver model is going to do is give us the ability for the first time to staff our schools the way we want, put principals in there that we want and establish work rules that we want," Quinn said. "I think it's an incredible thing."

Interim Superintendent Darren Brown said Tuesday he would seek clarification in Albany about the receivership model, including what constitutes "demonstrable improvement," before moving ahead with any turnaround plans. The district has been interviewing for a permanent leader but has not said when one might be hired.

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