Packed Buffalo school board meeting tackles health, transportation, finances

Oct 17, 2019

The Buffalo school board gathered for a regular meeting Wednesday night and addressed a range of issues, including a recent financial audit that found Buffalo Public Schools is in its strongest financial position in decades.

The meeting and several community speakers also addressed music education in the district, as well as a potential coming lawsuit claiming the district isn’t meeting state requirements for music and art education.

Buffalo school board members, administrators and community stakeholders pose with the 2019 American School Health Association "Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Award."
Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News

Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash opened the meeting by celebrating the district’s recent honoring as the 2019 American School Health Association (ASHA) "Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Award" winner. Sue Baldwin, the district’s wellness coordinator, accepted the award on behalf of Buffalo Public Schools at ASHA’s national conference in Cincinnati earlier this month.

The Whole Child model seeks to align the education and public health sectors’ service of children through 10 components—such as physical education, nutrition, social and emotional school climate and community involvement—that aim to improve a child’s cognitive, physical, social and emotional development.

Buffalo Public Schools adopted a comprehensive wellness policy in 2012.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make that merge between health [and] the issues that are around the Whole Child model, but the core or the bullseye is academic success,” Baldwin said, which would mean that “our kids come to school healthy, engaged, they feel supported and they have a rigorous curriculum that’s challenging to them.”

Baldwin also said New York State legislators invited Buffalo Public Schools to meet with them to discuss the district’s wellness policy and that they now plan to use it as a model for the rest of the state.

Advocates acknowledged the strength of the policy as they addressed the board but said the district needs to improve its implementation.

“It is a wonderful policy; it is winning awards. But a policy is only as good as, as much as we’re implementing it,” said Jessica Bauer-Walker, executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo and president of the BPS Parent Community Health Worker Association. “Currently, the district is quite far out of compliance with the health education component of the wellness policy.”

The district’s former Director of Health Related Services Assunta R. Ventresca also addressed some of her former colleagues serving on the board and in the district’s administration Wednesday.

“Students in Buffalo Public Schools are not receiving the quality, comprehensive health education they need to be safe, healthy, fit and [to] succeed,” Ventresca said. “The subject of health education is as important as any other subject. Healthy students do better in school—this is research—healthy students do better in school, get better grades and are less likely to drop out.”

The wellness policy is required by federal law, Ventresca added, and is due to be updated this year.

Transportation, specifically First Student’s driver shortage, was another recurring agenda item.

Several board members, including North District Representative Hope Jay, said the majority of complaints they’ve heard from parents since the start of the school year concerned late buses or buses that didn’t show up at all.

“I don’t want these parents to feel like we’re dismissing their concerns,” Jay told her fellow board members. “It impacts your whole day, your whole life, when you’re spending hours waiting for a bus to arrive, it never arrives, [or] it doesn’t show up at the spot, you don’t know if your child is safe. We need to figure out a better system.”

Board President Sharon Belton-Cottman said Buffalo is not alone in struggling with transporting students and that the district will be teaming up on a campaign to address transportation woes along with New York’s other “Big 5” cities.