(For those coming late to the discussion, take a minute to read the recent post, "Unsaid in school debate: Where the white kids are.")
Why should anyone care how white Discovery School is?
Or care how the debate goes between Mickey Kearns and the Buffalo Board of Ed over the future of South Park High School?
Because this is just a small piece of a huge issue that's likely to loom over the entire district.
There's growing interest in returning the Buffalo Public Schools to a neighborhood schools model. The whole district, that is. Not just South Buffalo.
Just a few supporters of the plan for neighborhood schools across the city:
Busing costs the district around $50 million a year, with the state picking up about three-fourths of that amount.
Jason McCarthy -- the relatively new North District Board of Ed member who lately seems to be finding his voice on the board -- says there is no single issue more important to the future of the district than returning to neighborhood schools.
And Sam Radford, the very vocal vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, has multiple reasons for supporting neighborhood schools.
The school choice program that's been in place nearly a decade just isn't working, Radford says.
"School choice is a joke," he said. "It's not even real."
Here's his take on it: In theory, kids can go to any school in the city they want. But in reality, they can only go to a school that has an opening. And the only schools with openings are the ones nobody else wants to go to.
Besides that, Radford says, the move away from neighborhood schools has had an unintended consequence.
Like many Buffalo residents (and former residents) of a certain age, he remembers walking to school as a kid every day, walking home for lunch and then back to school, and heading back to school again later in the day for various activities.
Schools used to be an anchor in the neighborhoods, he says. Not any more.
He points to School 74 in the Hamlin Park neighborhood. He says there are more than 1,400 children of school age eligible to attend that school. Only 70 of them do. Instead, those kids get on buses and attend schools in other parts of the city -- and kids from other parts of the city ride buses to come to School 74.
Add to all this the reality that many Buffalo parents have to rely on public transportation, Radford says. So when their kids go to school across town, that makes it all the harder for the parents to attend parent-teacher conferences, get involved in the PTO, pick up their kids when they're sick, or do any number of other things that help keep a school strong.
So you have plenty of arguments on behalf of a return to neighborhood schools.
And then there's the reality that Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the United States.
If we go back to neighborhood schools, those schools will, by definition, reflect the city's neighborhoods -- which are, by and large, separated by race.
Florence Johnson, the most veteran Board of Ed member in the city, pointed out recently that Judge Curtin desegregated Buffalo's schools to ensure that kids wouldn't spend their childhoods surrounded by kids who look just like them -- so the kids would not grow up with the prejudices so many adults have, she said.
So here's the $64,000 question: How do you return to neighborhood schools without reverting to segregated schools?
- Mary Pasciak