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How does Buffalo teacher pay compare to other districts?

The New York Times ran an interesting graphic comparing teacher pay and hours, looking at 114 larger districts in the United States.

(The data was compiled by the National Center on Teacher Quality.)

If you have a few minutes, check out the Times' graphic -- you can sort it by pay for first-year teachers; pay for teachers at the top of the scale; and by the length of the school day. It's interesting to peruse the list when it's sorted various ways.

For those of you who are interested, but want the nutshell version, here it is.

First-year teacher pay:

- High: $51,500, Washington, D.C.
- Low: $30,000, Albuquerque, N.M.
- Buffalo: $32,900 (ninth-lowest)

Veteran teacher pay (top of the scale):

- High: $101,000, Washington, D.C.
- Low: $46,900, Meridian Joint District, Idaho
- Buffalo: $74,700 (28th highest)

Length of workday:

- Longest: 8 hours and 30 minutes, Dallas
- Shortest: 6 hours and 30 minutes, Portland, Maine
- Buffalo: 6 hours and 50 minutes (sixth-shortest)

Of course, national studies have their own set of complexities, given different circumstances in different states. I think it's always helpful within national studies to also look at how Buffalo compares to other districts in New York.

Rochester teachers make $41,800 in their first year, about 27 percent more than Buffalo teachers; and at the top of the scale, Rochester teachers make $90,900, about 21 percent more than Buffalo teachers.

(The study did not include information about the length of the day in Rochester. I called over to their union office, and the short answer is that there is no short answer. The contract does not spell out the length of their workday.)

- Mary Pasciak 

Live blog of School Board meeting at 5 p.m.

Join me online this evening for a live blog of the board's executive affairs committee meeting, followed by the finance and operations committee meeting.

Topics tonight are expected to include redistricting and a possible discussion of a proposal to turn East High School and Waterfront Elementary into charter schools.

- Mary Pasciak 

The skirmish between the charter supporters and the school board

Several months ago, a group of people -- many of them founders of Tapestry Charter School -- got together to craft plans to turn East High School and Waterfront Elementary into charter schools.

It's not unusual for a group to put together plans to start a charter school in Buffalo. There are usually at least a couple such efforts in any given year.

What makes this situation unusual is that it involves plans to turn existing schools in the district into charter schools, as opposed to starting charter schools from scratch.

On top of that, what makes it even more unusual is that the group proceeded largely on its own, without involving district administrators or the school board in its plans. (The only way the plans could proceed would be either with the support of the school board or with drastic action by State Ed to revoke the registrations of the schools, which would clear the way for restarting as charter schools. It's tough to say which seems more unlikely at this point.)

A few months ago, before the charter school group was about to file its initial letter of intent with the State Education Department, leaders of the group met with then-School Board President Lou Petrucci.

Accounts from the two sides differ in terms of how supportive Petrucci said he was of the plan. The bottom line, though, was that the way the situation evolved left many board members irritated that they had been left out of the process. (Then-Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon told me at the time that while she was generally aware of some interest in turning the schools into charters, she had never been directly approached about the plans.)

Various people in the group involved in the charter effort have told me that after years of dismal results for the students in those two schools, they believe it's time to try something radically different, whether or not the school board supports it.

Well, in the end, the group decided to delay submitted its charter application until the fall.The group submitted applications last week with State Ed to technically close the two schools, then restart them as charter schools, giving preference in admissions to students who are enrolled in those schools now.

Amy Friedman, one of the leaders of the group, asked Ralph Hernandez if the group could present their plans to the board at this week's executive affairs committee meeting (Hernandez is the chair of that committee). He said yes.

That has not sat well with several board members.

Here's an email that Friedman sent out:

Dear Founding Group, Trustees, Community Members, Community Partners, Members of the Buffalo Board of Education and Buffalo School District:

On Wednesday, September 12, 2012, Chameleon Community Schools Project, Inc., in partnership with community citizens, and following a process outlined by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), submitted charter applications as turnaround plans to NYSED for Priority schools East High
School and Waterfront School to restart both schools as charter schools commencing with the 2013-14 school year.

On July 14, at a public community meeting, Mr Ralph Hernandez, Chair of the Executive Affairs Committee of the Board, invited Chameleon Community Schools Project, Inc. and the charter founding group to present at the next committee meeting.  Mr. Hernandez confirmed on September 5 that Chameleon and the founding group are on the agenda for the Executive Affairs Committee meeting this Wednesday, September 19, 2012, at 5 PM in the Board Room, 801 City Hall.

We have accepted this invitation and look forward to presenting to the Board of Education.

This is a public meeting.  Please join us.


Amy Friedman and Emilio Fuentes
Co-lead applicants

Petrucci responded with this:

To All-

I strongly urge the Buffalo Board of Education to NOT allow Chameleon to present at the Executive Affairs meeting on September 19th as it is in my opinion a violation of the well prescribed method by which we select partners for our schools and as such, I submit that we are exposing the district to liability on a variety of fronts from the litigious to the potential loss of funds for improper practice.

I am not anti-charter school and believe that under the present methodology used to select models for our low performing schools, a charter may be our only option. That being said, we are allowing a group to present to the board and we have not presented that opportunity to all the other parties that were previously interested, much less those that may have an interest now. That is why we use an RFP/RFQ so that individuals know that we are seeking partners. We have not issued either to my knowledge.

I have had conversations with SED. SED will only approve a charter school or EPO that the board has approved first. BY going directly to SED, Chameleon is not complying with the established protocol. The prescribed method is to gain local approval first. They applied and were rejected. Unfortunately points were not awarded for persistency.

Furthermore as Chameleon was not approved previously by the method the Buffalo Board of Education established by permitting them to present directly to the board, we undermine our own actions.

I cannot support this as currently presented to the board and urge in the strongest terms possible that my fellow board members do the same.


Lou Petrucci

And Barbara Seals Nevergold wrote:

Lou, thanks for providing this background and perspective to this issue.  I agree with you that we need to step back and gather all the information regarding the appropriate procedures for moving this request through the proper channels.  Barbara Nevergold

We will find out on Wednesday whether the board decides to allow the charter group to present its plans.

- Mary Pasciak 

Time to downsize the school board?

Every 10 years, the School Board has to redistrict, based on the latest census figures.

It's that time right now.

The line-drawing exercise is likely to have significant implications.

Right now, there are nine board members.

School board on city hall stepsSix of them (Sharon Belton-Cottman, Ralph Hernandez, Ruth Kapsiak, Lou Petrucci, Jason McCarthy and Rosalyn Taylor) each represent a certain geographic district of the city. (You can find a map of the existing district lines here.) The board members representing a specific district serve three-year terms. Those seats are up in the May 2013 election.

The other three board members (Florence Johnson, John Licata and Barbara Seals Nevergold) are at-large members, representing the entire city. They serve five-year terms. Those seats are up in the May 2014 election.

There's talk floating around City Hall that it might be time to downsize the board. One reason: The district is not as big as it was a decade ago -- it has lost about 10,000 students, or one-fourth of its population, most of it to charter schools.

(Of course, there are also arguments for maintaining the size of the board -- although enrollment has declined, state and federal requirements have increased, accountability measures have reached an entirely new level, and the district needs to improve student achievement more than ever right now.)

One downsizing option being floated would involve keeping the six district seats and eliminating the at-large seats. That would leave a six-member board, so a seventh district seat would have to be added to maintain an odd number.

Clearly, this is going to be a highly charged debate.

And not just because every one of the nine sitting board members has a strong interest in watching out for their own interests -- but also because the Common Council has the final say. To put it mildly, the Common Council is generally less than enamored with the School Board at the moment.

Here's how this is going to work: Each board member has appointed someone to a nine-member advisory committee. Well, with the exception of Ralph Hernandez, who, as vice president of executive affairs, is going to chair the committee himself. That means Hernandez will be the only School Board member with a direct vote on the advisory committee.

The advisory committee will vote on a recommendation or recommendations. That will go to the School Board, which will then weigh in on it. From there, the public has a chance to weigh on. And then the School Board gets to vote on the plan before sending it to the Common Council. The council then has the final word.

It's anybody's guess which way this will shake out.

What seems likely, though, is that the effects will be seen the next time you cast a ballot in a School Board election. Hernandez, as chair of the committee, says he wants to move forward with an aggressive schedule, so that the final plan is in place by December or January.

- Mary Pasciak

Can't get the superintendent to respond to you? Here's how

Over the past couple of months, I've been hearing complaints about what people say is Superintendent Pamela Brown's inaccessibility.

District employees, community group leaders and individuals who care about the schools have told me that they have emailed, called and even sent snail mail to Brown in the hopes of expressing a concern or requesting a meeting -- and received no response at all.

These are people who sought me out with their concerns, I would point out -- not people I sought out to ask about the superintendent. In other words, these people were frustrated enough to make a point of contacting me.

This week, I received a letter from an officer of a well-respected community group that is planning an event and would like to ask the superintendent to participate. The letter read, in part:

Brown at MST"In July, I sent an old-fashioned letter to Dr. Pamela Brown welcoming her to Buffalo and inviting her to come to our program and let us meet her. No answer.

"I have been trying to reach her by phone to no avail so far. Do you have an email for her, which I could use? I have not been able to find any."

When someone actually sends me a letter through the post office, that really gets my attention. The tipping point had been reached.

I emailed the superintendent (and cc'd Elena Cala, the district spokeswoman) about the frustrations that so many people have shared with me.

Here is what I wrote:

Dr. Brown,

There seems to be a growing concern in the community that you have been ignoring emails, phone calls and letters from various people and groups in the community.

Over the past several weeks, I have heard from a number of different stakeholders who reached out to me in frustration because they have contacted you, but you have not even acknowledged receipt of their correspondence, much less addressed the substance of their concerns.

Today, I received a written letter from a representative of a highly respected community group that is trying to organize a forum and wants you to participate. "In July, I sent an old-fashioned letter to Dr. Pamela Brown and inviting her to come to our program and let us meet her. No answer. I have been trying to reach her by phone to no avail so far."

This group reached out to me seeking advice on how best to contact you so as to get an actual response.

Could you please let me know -- so that I can let the community know -- why you have not been responding to countless constituents? And, for those who are still persevering in their efforts to communicate with you, what is the best way for them to do so?

- Mary Pasciak

By the end of the day, Cala emailed me back.

Here is what she wrote:

Dear Mary,

Calls made to the office for Dr. Brown are cleared daily by her secretary. Since her swearing-in as superintendent, Dr. Brown has typically attended many public events at the invitation of several community groups on weekends and evenings throughout the week. In fact, the only complaint I know of came from a local group that is holding a conference on October 20th, a conflict on the superintendent's schedule. A gentleman from the grou sent an email this week saying that he had not received a response, but when I forwarded him the response we had sent back in July, he apologized, saying he had missed it. I wrote to him just now to make sure he has the correct phone number.

I would very much appreciate the ability to reach out to those many different stakeholders you refer to, who have contacted you saying they are frustrated or ignored. One look at Dr. Brown's calendar will tell you that she is aware of, and sensitive to, stakeholders' desire for her presence. It is disconcerting to hear otherwise, especially when community events take up a good portion of her schedule.

During Dr. Brown's first weeks in the district, she spent a great deal of time planning for the September 5th opening of schools. Beyond that date, her calendar appointments populated quickly with community individuals, groups and media. In short, Dr. Brown is, and has been, taking appointments. In answer to the best way to communicate with Dr. Brown, please direct anyone who asks you to call 816-3500 or 816-3575, or email and/or


- Mary Pasciak

The student rep drills the distinguished educator

Erika Richardson, the new student rep on the School Board, seems likely to liven up the boardroom this year.

Boardrooms can be daunting places for newcomers. I've covered more than a dozen school districts for the News over the years, and very often, it takes new (adult) board members a year or so before they really get acclimated to their position and feel comfortable asking questions or sharing their thoughts.

Erika RichardsonThat certainly doesn't seem to be the case with Richardson, a student at Performing Arts (pictured at right).

She's already sat through a couple of board meetings, but she wasn't officially sworn in until Wednesday night.

Richardson wasted no time, though, in speaking up.

When it came to the part of the meeting where board members can talk about whatever's on their minds, Richardson said she did not have any comments, but she did have some questions.

And they were for Judy Elliott, the distinguished educator.

The student rep seemed to have no qualms asking Elliott the questions that countless adults in Buffalo seem to be wondering.

She cut to the chase.

Richardson: You are from out of town, correct? Florida?

Elliott at board meetingElliott: Yeah.

Richardson: And you are here to help the Buffalo Public Schools do what exactly?

Elliott: I grew up in Western New York and I've been asked to come back to work with the Buffalo Public Schools to problem-solve areas that need to be looked at to accelerate student achievement.

Richardson: How do you plan to do that?

Elliott: It's a good question. It's not my role to do that. But it's my role to facilitate that. I will work with the superintendent to do that.

Earlier in the meeting, Elliott said she had already visited 23 of Buffalo's 28 "priority" schools (that's the new term for schools among the lowest 5 percent in the state) and plans to visit the remaining five next week.

She is scheduled to submit a district plan to the state education commissioner by Sept. 24.

- Mary Pasciak

The phantom contract

Last night, the School Board was scheduled to vote on a contract with Johns Hopkins University to start partnering with East and Lafayette high schools on at least a limited basis this fall.

Board members did not get a copy of the contract in advance of Wednesday night's meeting. A note in the packet indicated the contract would be available in the board office on Wednesday. Around 4 p.m., I checked in the office, and there was still no sign of the contract.

As it turned out, administrators pulled the item off the agenda at the last minute. The contract still wasn't ready, I was told Wednesday night, as I was about to walk out of City Hall.

In other words, there is no contract with Johns Hopkins at this point.

But curiously, some board members didn't seem to know that. Some of them, in fact, believed they had already received copies of it -- copies of a contract that does not exist.

Before I knew that the contract had been pulled from the agenda -- and that there was, in fact, no such contract yet -- I tried to get a copy of it.

During the meeting Wednesday evening, I asked one of the board members for a copy of the Johns Hopkins contract. I was told board members had gotten copies of it last week during committee meetings.

(That, obviously, was not the case. The board did receive copies of a contract last week -- but it was not a contract with Johns Hopkins to run East and Lafayette. It was a contract with Research to Practice, the group that is running Buffalo Elementary School of Technology this year.)

After the board meeting, I asked another board member for a copy of the contract. That board member said they didn't have a copy, but went looking for a copy in the board office -- without success, of course, seeing as there was no such contract.

Next, I spoke with Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak and asked her for a copy of the Johns Hopkins contract. She didn't have a copy on her, she said, because the board had gotten copies of it last week in committee meetings.

Well, that would be impossible, seeing as there is no contract yet with Johns Hopkins.

Granted, I only talked to one-third of the board members.

But all three (including the board president) either believed they had actually received a copy of a contract that did not exist, or weren't sure whether a copy existed.


- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of School Board meeting at 5:30 p.m.: Johns Hopkins contract

Join me for a live blog of today's meeting. Among other things, the board is expected to vote on a partial contract to bring Johns Hopkins into East and Lafayette high schools.

You can access the packet of personnel changes, contracts and other items for tonight's meeting by scrolling down below the live chat window.


School Board Packet 9-12-2012

- Mary Pasciak

Will the board approve another last-minute contract to run a school?

Last week, tempers erupted at the board table when administrators asked the board to approve a contract with Research to Practice to get in and start running Buffalo Elementary School of Technology.

The board voted in December 2011 to hire the group to run the school. State Ed approved the plan in May.

But things hit a snag over the summer because the state has not approved the district's teacher evaluation plan. Until the district revises the plan in such a way that the state will approve it, the state will not release federal grant money for BEST. That's the $1.8 million needed for the first year of the three-year plan to have Research to Practice run the school.

At the same time, the district also needs to get Research to Practice in the school as soon as possible. The state expects the district to start implementing the improvement plan right away.

When board members arrived in City Hall last Wednesday afternoon, they were handed a 75-page contract designed to pay Research to Practice about $320,000 to get them in the school right away to get things rolling.

Board members had never seen the contract until then and had had no chance to review it.

"Do we need to approve this tonight?" Rosalyn Taylor asked Associate Superintendent Debra Sykes.

"It is before you this evening for your approval. They can't come into the school until we have your approval," Sykes said.

And in short order, the board launched into an angry debate.

"I realize we need to get Research to Practice inside the school, but we knew this two months ago," Sharon Belton Cottman said. "I am upset we continue to get last-minute decisions dumped on us."

Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak suggested tabling the contract for a week, to give board members a chance to read it.

"SED's expectation is that the plan is being implemented now that the school year has started," Superintendent Pam Brown said. "I certainly apologize for any confusion this document may have caused. This was our effort at getting the plan to start being implemented."

She noted that the board had already approved the full plan for Research to Practice to run BEST, even if they hadn't seen the specific terms of the 75-page contract until minutes before the meeting.

At that point, John Licata championed approval of the contract.

"We've got to get the people in place. We've got to show these people we are serious," he said. "Each one of these children is in a PLA school. We're saying, well, a week doesn't matter to us. Well, maybe it matters to them."

Cottman stood her ground, pointing out for a second time that there was no one on hand from Research to Practice to answer the board's questions.

"The issue is we're always at the 11th hour with these things being thrown at us that have to be signed off on," she said. "It's not about the money and it's not about not knowing these children need these services. What I'm concerned about is we agreed to sign a contract and we don't have clarity on it. This is what always happens on this board."

Several months earlier, she said, the board had questions about Research to Practice.

"When the [educational partnership organization] was presented, we had questions and we were told we would get the questions later. And we never got the answers," Cottman said. "Before we agree to a contract, we need to get these questions answered. And I don't think that's an unfair request."

Sykes ended up managing to get someone from Research to Practice to phone into the meeting to answer questions. She was generally able to answer the questions that board members asked.

Kapsiak scolded the woman, making it clear that the board needed to be provided with information in a more timely manner in the future.

"Based on the fact that we have you working with our team on these kinds of issues, we need to get these to the board members prior to the date of voting on them," Kapsiak said. "These are important matters and we are going to have to be time-sensitive to things getting to the board table."

Barbara Seals Nevergold noted she hadn't been on the board when the original plan with Research to Practice was approved. But, she said, she had concerns about the direction the conversation was taking.

"Getting [the contract] this late made it hard to review it," Nevergold said. "But we're getting into micromanagement."

Kapsiak responded: "It's not micromanaging when you sit here and you have to vote on something. There have been mistakes that have come through, budget issues [and so on]. I want things to come through in a timely fashion. Don't bring things to me the day of. In the future it's unacceptable."

Well, guess what?

In the board packet for tonight's meeting, there's a note regarding one of the contracts the board is scheduled to vote on.

It happens to be the contract with Johns Hopkins University.

The university, you might remember, was supposed to run East and Lafayette high schools this year. But in April, when it became apparent that state funding for the plans was in jeopardy because there was still no teacher evaluation plan in place, Johns Hopkins made it known it could not start running the schools in September.

It looks as though the board is going to be asked to consider a transitional contract with Johns Hopkins tonight, similar to the transitional contract it was presented last week for Research to Practice.

And it's deja vu all over again.

The note in tonight's board packet regarding the Johns Hopkins contract says, "The following item is not available at this time. Copies will be available in the Board Office, Room 801 City Hall, on Wednesday, September 12, 2012."

I'll be live blogging the board meeting at 5:30 p.m., so if you want to see how this shakes out, join me online here at the School Zone blog.

In the meantime, here's the entire board packet for tonight:

School Board Packet 9-12-2012

- Mary Pasciak

Buffalo #3 in highest spending per students among large districts

A recent study of spending per student in the biggest school districts in the U.S. found that Buffalo is out-spent only by Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J.

The Center for Governmental Research in Rochester analyzed the 285 districts in the country with 25,000 or more students, using 2010 numbers.

Here's the list of the 10 districts spending the most per student:

1. Washington, D.C. - $29,409
2. Newark, N.J. - $28,642
3. Buffalo, N.Y. - $26,903
4. New York City - $24,780
5. Jersey City, N.J. - $24,511
6. Pittsburgh, Pa. - $22,625
7. Rochester, N.Y. - $20,984
8. Cincinnati, Ohio - $20,860
9. Boston, Mass. - $20,262
10. Cleveland, Ohio - $19,354

Clearly, there are plenty of different ways to calculate spending per student. It all depends which expenditures you count in the total (for instance, whether you include just the general fund budget or include grant spending, as well), and how many students you count (primarily, whether you count all district and charter school students, or just district students).

There are different reasons you might use one number or another -- what's important, in any case, is that you are consistent in using the same figures for all districts, when you're comparing across districts.

So, in the interest of addressing any confusion the numbers might cause, let me clarify: the number that CGR cited for Buffalo is slightly higher than the one the Buffalo News generally cites, which is about $23,000 per student ($22,727, to be exact, according to the most recent figures available).

What seems interesting about the CGR study is how Buffalo compares to other districts, especially those in New York State. (District comparisons can sometimes get tricky when you're looking at different states, since every state handles its reporting slightly differently.) The Buffalo News every year compares per student spending in Western New York, but does not look at districts across the state.

Rochester is about the same size as Buffalo, in terms of the number of students, and the demographics of the district are also very similar. Buffalo spent $6,000 more per student than Rochester, according to the CGR study - in other words, 28 percent more per student.

Across the country, CGR found that districts with at least one-fourth of their students living in poverty spent an average of $15,000 per student, compared to an average of $10,800 for the rest of the large districts in the study.

The district spending the least was Meridian, Idaho, at $6,871 per student.

For the full list of districts in the study, go to Under Latest News, click on Excel Tables. Once the spreadsheet opens, click on the tab called Full Table.

- Mary Pasciak
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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.

@denisejewellgee |

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 |