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Parents pushing for a seat at the table with some juice

The District Parent Coordinating Council, as you probably know, organized the one-day boycott of the Buffalo Public Schools last month.

That left a pretty bad taste in the mouths of district officials and Board of Education members.

Despite that, though, the board somehow managed to get past it and agreed to give the DPCC a seat on the review panel that's evaluating the proposals from outside groups who want to run seven of Buffalo's failing schools. (DPCC President Co-Leen Webb decided to represent the parents herself on that panel.)

And then the mayor also gave the DPCC a seat -- actually, four seats -- at the table for last week's education summit at M&T Center.

All of that, says DPCC vice president Sam Radford, is huge. It is historic. The parents have never before been included in that way.

And that sort of thing, he will tell you, is exactly what the parent group was looking for when it called for the boycott: a place at the table.

Now, the DPCC is looking not just for a place at the table, but a place at the table with some juice to go with it. Because right now, there's nothing compelling the district to listen to the parents' input.

Parents would like to see the State Legislature pass what's known as the "parent trigger" bill. As today's story explains, that would give parents the right to force a school turnaround at any low-performing school where they collect the signatures of a majority of parents. (Here's a paper from Buffalo ReformED that explains how parent trigger would work.)

A NYSUT spokesman said the teachers union opposes it because, as commendable as parent participation is, parents should get involved before a school is declared low-achieving, not after. And he worries that it could open the door to outside groups pouring all kinds of money into lobbying the parents.

Translation: Pro-charter groups will do all they can to convince parents to push to convert district schools into charter schools.

Supporters of the parent trigger bill, including Radford and Buffalo ReformED's Katie Campos, say the real value of it lies not the likelihood that many actual turnarounds will be forced, but in the mere threat of such turnarounds.

Translation: We don't want to turn all these schools into charters, or force any other turnaround models, for that matter. We just want the parents to be taken seriously.

Buffalo ReformED and the parents are hoping to get the bill pushed through during this session of the Legislature -- something that even they acknowledge is a long shot, given that there are only a few days remaining in the session.

In the meantime, though, one thing is clear: The Board of Ed is definitely not thrilled with the whole thing.

When DPCC secretary Kim Walek updated the board last week about the parent trigger bill, board member Lou Petrucci was quick to jump in with questions. Here's a snippet:

Petrucci: Are you saying there's political advocacy at these meetings now?

Walek: California's parent trigger law has been looked at by parents.

Petrucci: Looked at?

Walek: We're letting parents know there's information out there.

(Side note: Buffalo ReformED and the DPCC say lobbying for the parent trigger law is no different from lobbying legislators for more money in the budget, which is something the district administration regularly asks them to do.)

Board President Ralph Hernandez said that if the DPCC decides to lobby on behalf of the bill, the group needs to report that to the board through the student support committee, which Florence Johnson chairs.

"I haven't had an opportunity to read (the bill)," Johnson said. "We only have one more meeting this month, and then we have a meeting in July. I can't promise we can fit all this in. We have other concerns that are state mandates. But I will do and facilitate as much as I can."

The student support committee meets this week. We'll find out Wednesday whether parent trigger is on the agenda.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

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Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |