Buffalo school administrators are wrapping up their sixth annual retreat at the Beaver Hollow Conference Center today.
In light of the 250 pink slips that went out to teachers, teacher aides and teacher assistants in the past few days, a growing number of administrators are questioning whether the district should be spending so much money on the retreat.
Every administrator in the district is given the option of staying overnight for the three-day event. With rooms costing more than $200 a night, and about 100 people (half of those who attend) opting to stay overnight, the pricetag runs in the neighborhood of $100,000.
Superintendent James Williams notes that the event is paid for by corporate sponsors -- in other words, vendors who do business with the Buffalo Public Schools -- so taxpayers are not footing the bill.
What do vendors get in exchange for their donations of up to $15,000?
Well, they get to stay overnight in a room in a villa at Beaver Hollow.
And they get to talk one-on-one with Williams and other administrators about what Buffalo wants in its classrooms.
Barry Bonessi, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s district manager for New York state, has attended the retreat for the past four years. His company is one of the largest textbook publishers in the United States.
He sees the retreat as a chance to talk with principals and curriculum directors, he said.
“Basically, it gives us a better understanding of the needs of the children of the City of Buffalo,” he said.
His company can then develop products that better meet those needs, he said. For example, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt learned at previous retreats that the Buffalo schools use interactive Promethean smartboards in classrooms.
“We see that trend, and we need to get Promethean technology that is compatible with our materials,” he said.
District spokeswoman Elena Cala said everyone benefits from the arrangement.
"It's a good symbiotic relationship," she said. "The vendors find out what we need through these retreats, and then they go back and make it. They create what we need, and then we're more likely to purchase it from them."
- Mary Pasciak