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Hamburg superintendent responds to Buffalo News article

Since our story on the crisis in the Hamburg Central School District ran Sunday, many people have taken note. 

Some folks have talked about the great things students are doing, including collecting and donating food for Thanksgiving. 

The interim superintendent commented that the papers were flying off the shelves Sunday. Richard E. Jetter has written a letter to the community in response to the article to show the district’s commitment to students and the school system.

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Feedback to story about teacher's note complaining of dirty, smelly children

What started out here as a School Zone blog post, then morphed into a front-page story that has since been picked up nationally, has garnered many opinions on whether it's OK for a pre-K teacher to send a handwritten note home to all parents saying that some children are coming to school smelly and unclean.

"It is a health and safety concern," wrote BUILD Academy pre-kindergarten teacher Sharon D. Perry Dunnigan. "It also makes it difficult for me to be close to them or even want to touch them. Enough said."

Nearly 400 comments were posted to the Saturday story. Newspapers, TV and radio locally and nationally have run with the story too. It seems people's reactions fall into one of two camps:

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Hamburg school turmoil: Legal costs skyrocket

Today, The News takes a look at the controversy in the Hamburg schools. Problems in the Hamburg School District are mirrored in legal actions and legal costs.

Those costs were just over $11,000 four years ago.

They skyrocketed to $263,000 in the 2010-11 school year.

Fees were about $80,000 the following year.

And last school year, when the district sued over the executive session tape, it paid Harris Beach $104,093 for legal services.

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Hamburg school turmoil: Controversy over new attorney

Today, The News takes a look at the controversy in the Hamburg schools. One of the points of contention has been the district's decision to change attorneys.

Shortly after taking a seat on the Hamburg School Board, Sally Stephenson successfully pushed for the removal of the Harris Beach law firm as the district’s attorneys, replacing Harris Beach with James D. Tresmond, 73.

Before a special July meeting, Stephenson had already formed a majority to dismiss Harris Beach and hire Tresmond at $110,000 a year.

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Back to the drawing board

Buffalo school officials are still pondering what to do with Middle Early College High School, which is located in a leased space inside one of board member Carl Paladino’s buildings.

The lease at 290 Main St. expires in December, but the consensus among board members is to let the school stay where it is until the end of the school year.

Where to put it after that was the question school officials have yet to answer.

The district has two empty buildings - 187 and 56, and one thought was that high school could go into one of them.

But after Wednesday’s presentation by Buffalo Schools architect Paul McDonnell about how much it would cost, board members dropped that idea and resurrected one that Superintendent Pamela Brown proposed some months ago: housing the school inside another one.

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Extended school day is very costly

Maybe it’s true that extending school days and years can be vital to educating children in urban districts.

But as the Buffalo Board of Education found out, it’s also very expensive and so costly that the district is exploring another option instead.

To extend the school day from six hours and 50 minutes to 7.5 hours - or one class period - it would cost the district $48 million for the whole year. And the price tag to extend the school year by 14 days for a total of 200 days is $1.4 million per day.

And that's just for teachers to work the extra hours, explained Barbara Smith, the district’s financial officer.

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Teacher sends home note about dirty, stinky children

Buffalo is a high-poverty urban community, so it's understandable that Buffalo teachers may sometimes struggle with children who are going to school wearing dirty clothes and smelling bad. Such conditions might ordinarily prompt a call to a school social worker and direct contact with a child's parents.

But a pre-kindergarten teacher at BUILD Academy, came up with her own novel approach last week. She sent home with every classroom student a copy of a handwritten "URGENT NOTICE!" saying that several of the 3- and 4-year-old children in her class were dirty, stinky and "difficult for me to be close to them or even want to touch them. Enough said."

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Will State Ed commissioner bring his listening tour to Erie County?

State Education Commissioner John King has been traveling the state to listen to the public on Common Core and other state education reform initiatives. 

But despite including Amherst on an initial list of locations he plans to hold a public forum, no details have been released about when or where that meeting might be held.

A forum schedule posted on the state Department of Education website includes only a meeting scheduled Dec. 4 in Jamestown for Western New York.

That has led some, including State Sen. Tim Kennedy, to question whether King still plans to bring his tour to the Buffalo area.

"I certainly appreciate you traveling to as many regions, and holding as many forums, as possible," Kennedy wrote in a letter to King that he also released publicly, "but it is imperative that you do not ignore the largest school district in Western New York in favor of an event that is about 70 miles -- or more than an hour-and-a-half drive -- away from Buffalo."

So is Amherst or another location in the Buffalo area still on the list for a Common Core forum?

"We will definitely be holding a forum in Erie County before the end of the year," state ed spokesman Jonathan Burman said this morning.

King came under criticism last month after he cancelled a series of community forums organized by the New York State PTA after encountering a raucous crowd at the first meeting in Poughkeepsie. Amherst was one of the locations included in the PTA series.

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Updated State Ed document details student data to be handed over to inBloom

Educators and parents concerned about student privacy have been closely watching what types of information must be submitted to a new statewide data system known as EngageNY Portal.

School administrators talked of hundreds of fields that would have to be filled out for each student -- from attendance records to state test scores -- but determining exactly what information would be uploaded was a challenge.

An updated document posted by the New York State Department of Education sheds more light on the question.

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Paladino and censorship silliness on the Buffalo school board

How confidential is information spammed out to thousands of people?

Not very. Which is why the decision by the Buffalo school district to censor many of board member Carl Paladino's resolutions Wednesday night is simply ridiculous.

At Wednesday night's meeting, half of Paladino's 10 board issues were redacted with black marker. Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold said this was done because Paladino was referring to matters in litigation or were personnel issues that could only be reviewed and discussed in closed session.

We are quite disappointed in whoever wrongly advised the board president on this matter.

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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 |