The deadline for registering your child for elementary school in the Buffalo Public Schools came and went Nov. 28.
Plenty of parents had no idea that the deadline passed, and they let board members know it. The deadline was close to impossible to dig up on the district's website; the wrong deadline was listed in some places (including on the applications, although those were corrected by hand); and it was nowhere to be found on the district calendar online.
In fact, board member John Licata told the district's parent group on Tuesday: "A deadline that isn't announced isn't really a deadline... I'm certainly going to vote to open the window. It seems only fair. If the problem is that we didn't get the info to you, then we should bear the burden."
And he didn't seem to be the only board member who felt that way.
But Wednesday night, Jackie Ross Brown, director of student registration, told the board she did not support extending the deadline.
"I would be very uncomfortable at this point extending (it)," she told the board.
Well, she said nearly 2,000 parents got their applications in on time -- about the same number as most years. Extending the deadline would put those people at a "punitive disadvantage," she said, because allowing other students to join the lottery would mean more kids competing for the same seats -- thus worsening the odds for those who met the deadline.
The district accepts applications for months after the deadline, she noted, and those kids all get seats -- at the schools that still have openings at that point. (Read between the lines.)
Ross Brown said that this year, student placement letters will go out around Feb. 15.
Mark your calendar -- that's about two months earlier than usual. (It's also two months earlier than the estimate that her former boss, Mark Frazier, had given the board just last week.)
It's important that the letters go out earlier, she said, because usually, by the time parents find out which public school their child got admitted to, the private and parochial schools have already required a deposit. At that point, parents lose their money if they opt for public school.
"We continually run into some difficulties with private and parochial schools," she said.
And if the district extended its application deadline, then those placement letters would be delayed, she said.
Licata on Wednesday noted that, based on numbers from recent years, another 220 or 230 people might still be out there, waiting to register their child for school. And Ross Brown acknowledged, in response to a question from Ralph Hernandez, that on top of that, there are hundreds -- it wasn't clear exactly how many, but she said well over 300 -- additional pre-k parents who have not registered their children.
"We do not know why, but pre-k parents do not register until May or June," she said.
Maybe because they don't know the deadline is in November?
Keep in mind, all those people who miss the deadline will still get a seat for their child somewhere -- in other words, in a school that is so much not in demand that it still has openings.
Well, after discussing the issue for a little while on Wednesday, it seemed that everyone on the board was satisfied that things played out this year pretty much as they do every year in student registration. Ross Brown said her office did its usual due diligence in getting the word out about the registration deadline -- and if anyone missed it, that wasn't for lack of effort on the district's part.
"The cry you're hearing (from parents who missed the deadline), we've heard in the past," Ross Brown said.
The board did not take a formal vote, but there was consensus around the board table that the deadline would not be extended. Extending the deadline, they felt, would not be worth the consequence of delaying the placement letters.
Every year, the board complains that student enrollment is dropping. Board members are well aware that there are hundreds of kids on waiting lists at charter schools -- and board members frequently talk about how the district needs to acknowledge that it's in competition for those kids.
It seems to be an interesting coincidence that every year, the district does the same thing to get the word out to parents about its registration deadline -- and every year, they get about the same number of people who meet the deadline.
I guess there are two ways to look at that.
One is, as long as you're getting more or less the same number as the previous year, you're doing things right.
The other is, maybe if you did more to get the word out, you could actually increase that number.
It all depends how you look at it.
- Mary Pasciak