Neighborhood schools hotly debated

At this week’s meeting of the Buffalo school board, there was some discussion about the prospect of neighborhood schools and ensuring that no child is forcibly bussed across the city against their will. Board member Carl Paladino is advancing the policy, which is wildly popular in the North and West districts, where parents want their children to attend schools near their homes.

There has been some confusion about the neighborhood school policy, which has been reported in the local media and among activists with the implication that it would be implemented in place of school choice. That is not true. The neighborhood school policy would give students the right to attend a school in their neighborhood. Because of bussing policies, white students are often forced to attend schools far flung from their homes, which has exacerbated suburban sprawl and regional socio-spatial segregation patterns.

If middle class families can be assured that they will have access to nearby public schools, the city’s 54 year decline can be reversed, supporters argue. Critics argue that in a segregated city, neighborhood schools will lead to segregated classrooms.

The reality is that the district’s schools — under the current bussing regime — are already starkly segregated, and likely more segregated because of bussing.

Advocates argue that stable neighborhood schools will be the basis of neighborhood turnarounds. Good schools in walkable communities will integrate the region and reverse socio-spatial segregation patterns more quickly than continued bussing.

After some heated discussion, the resolution was amended to instruct the superintendent to gather data and make a recommendation to the board about implementing such a policy.

Kriner Cash indicated that he will subcontract the work of gathering parent input and surveying public interest, and will make a recommendation to the board by the mid-February board meeting.

The resolution passed 8-1, with Sharon Belton-Cottman dissenting.

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