The Growth of the DPCC and What’s Next in the Fight to Put Students First

29 Apr

For the past 5 years, the District Parent Coordinating Council has been actively working with and encouraging the leadership in Buffalo to improve the City’s public schools and ensure that every single child in the city has access to an excellent education. For the first 2 years, DPCC members went to every single school board meeting to hold the board accountable for making decisions that would improve the conditions of the schools…it didn’t happen. Their next approach was to learn the state and local laws that they could use to increase their presence, and they made significant gains: they were able to put a parent coordinator in every single school, create site-based management teams, and were finally allowed into their childrens’ schools—the same schools that they were previously shut out of.  Now, those same laws that helped them to get into the schools are proving to be obstacles to making systemic changes to the way educational services are structured and delivered. Mainly, refocusing and reprioritizing the structure to put students first—a 180 degree shift from the current system that exists to support adults,  and ignore the needs of students.

The District Parent Coordinating Council has persevered, grown in numbers, and succeeded in empowering themselves through their own education. They did their homework, and from all accounts, history is on their side.

In March 1947, the Buffalo Teachers Union held the first public-sector strike in the country.  The purpose of the strike was to improve their working conditions and salary. Though their intention was to strike for only one day, they shut down the school system for 7. Finally, the Governor intervened and advised that the state and local governments give the Buffalo Teachers whatever they needed to settle the strike in order to get kids back in school.

In 1976, the BTF boycotted again. And again in 2001 (though this time they broke the law). The BTF realized that the only way they were going to get what they wanted from the system was to withdraw their participation. Now, they are the strongest union in the state, benefiting from an iron-clad contract that expired in 2004, and has yet to be redrafted. Under the 1982 Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, a contract is in effect even after it expires, until both parties come to the table to re-negotiate. Although there have been conflicting messages from officials on both sides about the state of negotiations, we have yet to see concrete proof that any real gains have been made in an effort to draft a new contract.

For the last 50 years, the Buffalo Public School system has been failing nearly half of its students. Teachers went on strike for better pay; they got paid more than twice as much, the school budget has quadrupled, and results for student achievement and graduation rates has stayed the same. As Superintendent Williams admitted publicly, the school system is set up to fail a large percentage of minority students. In a city where 80% of the public school students are black, why would parents continue to send their children to a school that they know will likely fail their child?

Parents of the DPCC are now facing a watershed moment; looking to the trajectory of the Buffalo Teachers Federation as a precedent for gaining power back, the group will withdraw their participation from a system that has consistently failed them and their children until the district and the state meet their demands: create a public school system that is built on the foundation of putting students first.

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